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Morgan Agren/ Trey Gunn/ Henry Kaiser - Invisible Rays (2011)


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If there is any musician today who embodies the musical spirit of Robert Fripp, it must be his former King Crimson band mate, Warr Guitarist Trey Gunn.

There are certain musical sensibilities that set Robert Fripp apart from other guitarists out there—mostly a serpent-like determination to strike at, and only at, the exact right moment, but also heavily dependent on a zen-like honor for space and silence that few other musicians in rock really grasp. Gunn has studied all of Fripp's greatest moves and really begun to show his own twist with his hybrid guitar/bass playing. Like Fripp, he is often at his best in service to others, as he channels that same creative energy into doing only what is right to support his fellow musicians and the song itself.

Here then, in Invisible Rays is an outlet for him to simply be one of the trio rather than the solo artist representing himself with backup musicians.

The retirement of King Crimson seems like it should have been a terrible thing for fans, but it turns out to have been a huge benefit—at least for those fans of the later incarnations. For whatever reason, not having the looming specter of the big beast out there has freed up its then-current and even former members to turn loose whatever energy being in the band stirred up in them.

Adrian Belew churned out his most aggressive, satisfying album yet, the simply titled e, when the 2009 reunion turned into a disappointingly minuscule tour. Bassist/Stickist Tony Levin called up Bruford Levin Upper Extremities guitarist David Torn and enlisted the drumming duties of Yes' Alan White (who is forever replacing Bruford, it seems) for this year's amazing Levin Torn White. Not to be outdone, here comes Gunn, who officially left the band after The Power To Believe tour, with legendary guitarist Henry Kaiser and drummer Morgan Agren in tow.

All of these mine Crimson territory, some more than others, but all, for sure, appeal to that highly critical fan base. None disappoint.

It's becoming easier to see who found what particular phase of their career most intriguing, as they seem to dip back into the well they dug there for inspiration. For Levin, it seems to be what he started with David Torn's Cloud About Mercury project and continued with Bruford Levin Upper Extremities. For Belew and Gunn, it's latter period Crimson, and even more probably, the ProjeKcts that developed after the Thrak lineup of Crimson fragmented into smaller musical exploratory units. Here, it seems, much more of promise was developed than King Crimson itself would ever actually deliver.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: As part of our feature 'Shows I'll Never Forget,' Tom remembers a 2008 Power Trio concert in which Adrian Belew memorably warned the audience: 'Better put on your helmets.']

The ProjeKcts were the wild younger sibling of the band, free of constraints set in place, it seems in retrospect, by Robert Fripp—who very clearly has a vision of what shape, if not sound or style, the spirit of King Crimson really is. For many, the four ProjeKcts themselves were more Crimson than the two rather tame studio albums that followed. It's no wonder that Belew and Gunn pick up where the ProjeKcts left off with their own releases, then.

There are like minds at work here on Invisible Rays. A quickie project, so they claim—the guys found themselves with a couple hours of free-time in between conferences at a music expo—they threw out whatever musical ideas were in their heads and then edited it down to what is represented on the album. In a surprising admission from a former Crimson member, Gunn admits he's not comfortable with using this free-form technique to create music ("a risky way to spend cherished studio time," as he puts it), but you wouldn't know it listening to this material.

As improvisatory music, it's not for everyone. The massing opening title tune is 22 meandering minutes that veers from punishing brutality to spacy noodling, and back again. As such, it's a kind of gatekeeper: You're either going to give up or you'll be pounding at the door to get through to the rest. The rest, as it turns out, is more of the same, but that's “the same" not as in “ho-hum" same but more mostly indescribable Frippian guitarscaping, noise-mongering, and drum-pounding, but one tune in particular stands out: “Where Is Juan?" shows the kind of humor these bands can develop—for the right kind of weird listeners that can pick up on it—when extremely talented musicians get together and just go with what the moment calls for.

There's nothing inherently “funny" going on, it's more the sense of the dare that you know was on each of the members' minds as they played. There is a distinct sense that quite possibly each is looking for a way to make the song fall apart, stretching and tugging this way and that, distorting rhythms and patterns, but the others react in their own equally opposite way. The result is an elastic tune that feels as if it's constantly on the verge of tumbling out of control yet it never does.

There are times that I really wish people danced to music like this, because I would really enjoying watching the lurching attempts to keep up.

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