Trey Gunn is without doubt one of the most gifted and creative musicians in the progressive rock scene. Most know him because of his decade-long stint with Robert Fripp and King Crimson, one of the greatest prog rock bands ever. Gunn is both a schooled artist and one who has learned a lot through relentless touring with artists that include Brian Eno, Tool, Tony Levin, and Azam Ali to name a few.
But besides the hundred-plus albums he has played on, he also has a solo career which he started in 1994 with One Thousand Years, an album he put together shortly after his trio with Robert Fripp and David Sylvian. Undoubtedly influenced by Fripp's keen sense of eclectism, particularly in the guitar work, Trey Gunn also marries unconventional song elements, which are predominantly based on eastern soundscapes with a vast array of percussion and drum work.
Known for his mastery of the Chapman Stick, an odd guitar-meets-bass-like electric instrument, Trey Gunn also does some vocals on this disc, which is vastly absent on his successive solo material. This, in a way, makes One Thousand Years a more unique listening experience, as it deftly mixes Persian and Indian-like female vocals with Gunn's elabore drone experiments and various ethnic percussion. Gunn shares the vocals with Serpentine on "The Night Air", in which he assumes a spoken part in the background as well as a melodically driven harmony towards the end.
Gunn's singing varies greatly from that of a typical singer-songwriter artist's, as the vocal pieces seem more like a stream of consciousness than vocal-based cuts. "The Screen Door and the Flower Girl", for instance, establishes an atmospheric core, utilising lots of stretched notes atop a groovy bass line and eerie percussion. Likewise, "Killing for London" is an ambient cut that contains a good amount of Eastern percussion thanks to Pat Masteletto, with whom Gunn would go on to join King Crimson and play on Azam Ali's exceptionally beautiful Elysium for the Brave album some fifteen years later. The blend of dissonant guitar voicings, white noise, and female vocals culminates in a very exciting ending.
A thick bass presence is woven into the complex "Real Life" in a pool of myriad soundscapes and lucid synth textures forming a mystical aura, while "Into the Wood" boasts a more open sound structure, highlighting lush acoustic guitars and wordless female harmonies. Gunn's electric solo here sends chills up and down the spine. The solo is sort of like Ron Jarzombek's work on the first Gordian Knot album except that Gunn's playing is a lot more introspective. It is one of the finest solos I've heard from him.
The totally peaceful "The Gift" is an endless journey on a vast sound field, with only shimmering notes and drone-like melodic growth. The title track is somewhat similar, erasing the lines between ambient music and post-rock. There are also little nuances carved out in Gunn's impeccable production work. The operatic female voice on "Take This Wish" was something I noticed only after the fifth or sixth spin on headphones.
Special mention goes to Gunn's long-time drummer Bob Muller, whose unique playing of table, percussion, drums, and hand drums lends the songs their own personality. It would be impossible to capture the same intensity with another drummer.
The following Trey Gunn albums see him joining forces with other musicians and creating unique instrumental pieces that are inspired bu neither jazz nor classical music. On the contrary, their love for non-western sounds comes through more heavily thanks to the more spacious production employed, so One Thousand Years has its own place in his enormous discography.
- The Night Air
- The Screen Door and the Flower Girl
- Killing for London
- Real Life
- Into the Wood
- The Gift
- Take This Wish
- 1000 Years