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The Arrow – a story in seven parts

Review by Gary Hill

You have to figure any project that involves Trey Gunn will be artistic. This is the quintessential example of that. In fact, this is such a cool concept that it would be worth having even if the music were lousy – and, of course, it isn’t. This album comes as a 2 disc set. The first is the audio CD, which is what I’ll be reviewing in a track by track way in a moment here. The second part is a DVD. This DVD includes all the tracks with an artistic video production accompanying it. This is apparently the way the music is meant to be experienced. I’m reminded of the film “Koyaanisqatsi.” For those who haven’t seen it, it is a marriage of music and video imagery that teleports you, as Rod Serling would say, into a world of sight and sound. The overall effect here is similar. This collection is an incredible leap of artistic creativity, which will certainly make it close to the top of my list of best albums of the year. Such adventurous artistry needs to be rewarded.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at

Track by Track Review
Part 1:
We Began With a Woman
Waves of pretty ambient sounds enter and rise upward in a joyous, if understated way. A spoken voice comes over to tell the beginning of the story. This never moves far from its beginnings, but rather remains a potent tone poem sort of piece.
The Arrow
With a weirder, less musical approach here, this continues the story.
A Boy Comes By
Percussion and other sounds wander in an uneasy pattern as the story continues it. This turns more energized and fully realized.
Part 2:
Sitting on the Bank
Weird tones rises very gradually. A female voice rises as an instrument as this begins to feel like music from some film soundtrack. Touch guitar weaves patterns across the cool backdrop. It is over four minutes in before the telling of the story is picked up again. Instead beautiful music carries it. The sound of the river is all that accompanies the spoken story. Percussion enters after a time. Later this percussion becomes synthesized in a way. This becomes a more full arrangement as it carries onward, with a faster, more energized approach taking over.
Thick and Thorny
Apparently representing the pure blackness that emerged from the last part of the story, this pounds in with a fury and more full rock sound that is in keeping with modern King Crimson. This is the first real rock music on show here. It’s a killer, too. It drops back for a short time to percussive ambience, but then the guitar screams out from that point and turns it around a number of successive corners in a noisy celebration.
Part 3:
I Saw Two Hands
Ambient tones lead this off and hold it for a while. Then a KC like rhythmic structure takes over and they begin to create their layers of sound over the top of this. The percussion becomes more involved as it carries on. This is one of the cooler tracks on the disc with the recitation coming over this vaguely Crimsonian music. At around the three-minute mark they drop the tempo way down. This new, slower operation becomes the order of the day here. At about five and a half minutes in it slows again, to a near crawl.
Part 4:
When the Fire Was Slow
The sounds of a fire leads this off. The voice here is different According to the liner notes this is based on a story that was told by Geronimo.
He Stood In The Rain
Cool, ambient tones rise up here. Then a rubbery guitar texture threatens to bring in some Crimsonian sound. Instead, only percussion with sound effects remains as the backdrop for the next section of the story. Later in the cut we hear the guitar again attempting to assert itself.
Set Loose Upon The Water
Music that feels almost neo-classical or perhaps like a film soundtrack rises up here to begin this. With a darkness and yet ambient beauty this moves forward feeling a lot like a more textural King Crimson. It doesn’t ever fully rise up, but it is one of the tastiest piece of music on the whole disc.
Part 5:
Water Woman
At almost eleven minutes in length, this is the second longest track on show here. Sounds in the background, including a female voice begin this and a percussive pattern, rather like a clattering wind chime also appears. This ends with more atmospheric sounds replacing it. As the story begins to be woven again, the voice is female. At about six and a half minutes in, at a crucial part of the story, a warbling sound rises and seems ready to alter the track. Rather than do so, it drops back to just the spoken voice to move it onward. Ambient tones rise back up after a while. At just past the eight and a half minute mark percussion rises to join in. Hints of melody emerge later. The percussion begins to resemble tuned percussion for a time until it drops away. Ambient tones serve to end the cut.
Part 6:
The First Sign
One line of the story, without accompaniment, begins this track, the longest on the disc at eleven and a half minutes. After this a Crimson-like, rubbery, rhythm texture on touch guitar starts in. This holds the backdrop for a while, but as they carry on it builds up to a more powerful incarnation of itself. Noisy sounds and textures come across here and there. At around the two and a half minute mark a keyboard sound that reminds me of the intro to The Who’s “Eminence Front” comes in for a while. They bring the intensity of this up further as they carry forward. A crescendo three and a half minutes in, leaves just the looping Crimson like sounds. After a short time keyboard sounds rise up from there. After the spoken segment returns they add an echoed rendition, more and more staggered as it carries on. This section is extremely dramatic. When the narrator says, “So he stopped,” the music does stop. The line continues without accompaniment. Then more textural sounds come into the composition. A child’s voice takes over the recitation. Hints of melody start to join. That melody never really comes to fruition, though. Instead the ambient tones eventually drop away, leaving just the voice. With only about a minute left in the track we get a droning bass sound threatening to rise up and the return of the adult voice.
From the last line of the previous section, I fully expected this to rise back up like the beast that was “Thick and Thorny.” Instead, ambient tones lead to a rather pretty display of sound that consists of waves of guitar skating in a distorted, but yet quiet and soothing pattern across a backdrop of ambient sounds and textures. This is an incredibly cool and beautiful piece of music, one of my favorites on the CD. It remains strictly instrumental.
Part 7:
After the Village
A cool Crimsonian rhythm section starts this off. Piano and other keyboard elements rise up to meet it. The story recitation returns over this background. This one is quite jazzy, but still has elements of mystery and drama. The music continues to build in a powerful pattern of melody and tone. This turns pretty and very evocative with a triumphant feeling to it. The speaking ends and then a new melody, one of the most musical of the CD begins with a tentative pattern. Then the voice returns over the top of this. After a while the music climbs higher into beautiful unexplored vistas of sound. This is simply incredible, both the words and the music conveying a sense of cosmic victory. It peaks as the character, “…soars, into the stars.” Then we move into space. Over this backdrop guitar weaves noisy, but still sedate lines of sound. This ends and it seems like the song might finish there. Instead a new bouncing mode comes up in the background and the speaker returns. Piano melodies from the earlier phases of the tune emerge along with this. Then the music is reborn again with a powerfully neo-classical sound that rises ever higher and higher. This is probably the most beautiful musical passage we’ve experienced on this disc. It feels joyous and celebratory, but in a cosmic way. This resolves out in a crescendo and then the sounds drop back down to near space. Percussion and sundry sounds fill the void, ever so slightly. While growing a little bit, the track never rises back up from atmosphere, but instead takes us to the satisfying conclusion.
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