Poking around the Internet yesterday, I stumbled upon some new Phish music! Posted in multiple Phish forums was the complete version of The Victor Disc, a series of instrumental outtakes from a 2002 jam session. I had posted the first three tracks on Phish Thoughts recently, but now we have uncovered all ten tracks to the mysterious quasi-album! The story behind the recording is as follows.
The overwhelming feel of the album is organic improvisation. Looser than most Phish music, The Victor Disc is a portrait of a band reacclimating to each other by simply playing together. With no particular goal in mind, the band got into the studio and let it flow. If The Siket Disc was focused on psychedelic soundscapes, The Victor Disc is focused on looser jazz-based improvisation with a distinctly Phishy twist. When digging into the extensive album, one will find that the first few tracks that had leaked onto the Internet are hardly the highlights. Totaling two hours and twenty minutes of pure Phish improv, there are some golden moments hidden within. Since we have already heard the first three tracks, let’s look at some of the other, far longer, offerings. (You can download the entire album below via torrent.)
“Victor Jam Session” 11:20
This segment of improv passes through many Phishy textures, starting in a noodly territory and meandering through various loose musical feels. Eventually, this track picks up some momentum, and the band locks into some rolling patterns. Mike steps up to take the lead, and the band locks onto his bass line creating minutes of extremely cohesive Phish music.
“Sky Train Wand” 17:24
Beginning solely with a sparse drum beat, Trey slowly layers some rhythm licks into play, inviting Mike and Page to subtly step into the quiet medium. Sounding like a hybrid of reggae and jazz, Phish is off creating another unique slice of improv. Illustrating the patience that became a huge part of 2.0, this jam uses space as much as it uses notes. What is great about these extended “glimpses” into Phish’s private world is that we get to see a raw picture of the band offering new and original musical ideas with no preconceptions whatsoever. While this point is reached in shows, there is always a context to the music; yet behind closed doors, we get to see a bit deeper into the band’s experimentation and imagination. The second half of this “jam” sees Trey and Page combine to play beautiful leads over the open backdrop before the band congeals back together.
“Blue Over Yellow” 15:30
Trey carries a thematic lead melody over a unique pocket formed by Mike and Fish during this outtake. Sounding like he is playing around with the “Banana Pudding” melody, Trey draws in Page’s piano accompaniment and the band engages in a methodical, cooperative groove. Page adds quite a bit of tonal color to this segment of music, as the band locks into a series of slowed down hits- all very much on the same page. Fish leads them out of this section as the band remains locked and incredibly loose. In the second half of this track, they gain more of an edge, lending some harder, more dissonant sound to the mix. The entire band is moving like a single-celled organism on this track (and on most of the disc, for that matter.) This is a laid back, yet engaging, piece of music.
“Guantanamo Strut” 17:22
Divergent from any of the previous tracks on this album, “Guantanamo Strut” starts right in with a harder rock feel. Trey uses a much louder tone at the beginning of this piece than on any other (except the last track.) Maintaining a jazzy beat behind the more straight ahead accompaniment, Fish maintains a rhythmic focus to the track, while Page lends piano chords that returns a jazzier feel to the improv. One of the two most groove-based tracks, this jam possesses real musical diversity, and doesn’t stagnate in any one place. Segueing back into a jazzier feel, the band locks into some interesting patterns that sound like they could be derived from a jazz version of “Stash.” Building out a legitimate groove, the band explores in a free-form way, sounding like they are playing in a late-night smoky jazz club.
About two-thirds of the way through, the music becomes much more Phishy as Trey begins to access his more signature sound, creating sustained melodic leads, causing the music to sound like an ambient Phish jam you might hear at a show.
“35 Minute Jam” 35:33
By far the longest “track” on the album, “35 Minute Jam” moves through several different improvisational realms. Stylistically fitting with the album’s loose playing, the start of the track possess a “louder” feel than much of the delicate Victor Disc. For the beginning of the jam, the band maintains a blues-rock feel before switching gears into a far more mellow milieu. As if they changed songs on a dime, this track’s second section become very quiet and beautiful, moving into an sparse “ambient” place.
The jam winds down into near silence for some minutes before Trey begins to add some happy rhythm chords to the barely existing canvas, inviting Mike and Page back into the mix. Taking their time, and with precision, the band continues to morph in and out of some minimalist patterns. Soon, the band jams back down to virtual silence again, this time with Mike leading them back out. Progressing into an interesting musical narrative, Trey plays more conventional patterns; albeit at a slowed tempo. Gradually slipping into a drone pattern, the band unites in some improvised starts and stops, illustrating their cohesiveness and focus.
This is tiny interlude that features a melancholic piano-led pattern that is gone before it really starts. The only lyrics on the album appear for a few seconds on this track- a sample of a woman wistfully saying something indiscernible about about heartache.
“The Last Victor Jam” 24:23
This track starts in with the most aggressive musical palette on the album, jumping in seemingly mid-jam when the band has already built some musical momentum. While remaining firmly rooted in piano-led jazz, this track has more drive to it than all the others. Moving a bit faster, Fish holds the framework of this musical stew as Page really stands out. As it builds, this “jam” finds a distinct direction and follows its course, creating the sound most similar to live Phish that exists on The Victor Disc. As the jam moves on, the band returns to the jazz aura of the session, while still holding onto their more direct path. A definite album highlight, “The Last Victor Jam” puts a nice cap on this series of instrumental Phish.
At last, the mystery of The Victor Disc has been revealed. In a collection of extended instrumental outtakes, Phish painted a portrait of where they were in December 2002, on the verge of stepping back onstage at Madison Square Garden for their second go-round. Now, on the verge of part three, we can look back, listen, and reflect on a time gone by. More extensive, yet less polished, than the “scrapbook-psychedelia” of The Siket Disc, The Victor Disc allows us to peek in on Phish with a completely different mindset than they had while creating its ’99 counterpart.
DOWNLOAD THE VICTOR DISC NOW < TORRENT LINK
1. Lazy and Red (5:57)
2. Den of Iniquity (9:55)
3. Bubble Wrap (4:34)
4. Sky Train Wand (17:24)
5. Blue Over Yellow (15:30)
6. Guantanamo Strut (17:22)
7. Victor Jam Session (11:19)
8. Heartache (0:34)
9. 35 minute jam (35:33)
10. Last Victor Jam (24:23)
(Track titles are questionable)
MAYBE SO, MAYBE NOT- THE DOCUMENTARY
Fan and filmmaker, Noah Wilderman, is in the midst of a documentary project that examines the evolution of the Phish community- “Maybe So, Maybe Not.” In Noah’s own words:
The Phish experience is an important cultural phenomenon, embodying the journey of my generation in many ways. I’d like to tell that story. Quite simply, now is the time to tell this particular story because this generation is coming into its own, personally and politically. Our journey through life has been to a soundtrack that seemed to match the beats of many lives step by step. By analyzing both the timeline of Phish side by side with the tides of the generation, we can see how closely they are linked and signify the relevance of Phish in the lineage of a century of influential music communities with a historical perspective.
If you’d like to support film making efforts, they have started a grassroots fundraiser with the goal of getting each participant to donate $5. If you’d like to be in the film, get in contact with the producers. With only a few weeks left, every person following along and every $5 is huge.