After a couple of less than stellar solo albums (hear: Shine, Bar 17), some rather underwhelming tours and one Photoshop destined mug shot, Trey Anastasio has been cementing his legacy with more head shaking than nodding. With The Horseshoe Curve, the former Phish frontman tries on a familiar concept – the instrumental big band, courtesy of his Trey Anastasio Band that toured between 2002 and 2004. Revisiting the works of that highly regarded dectet, it comes to no surprise that now is the perfect time for Anastasio to play it safe.
There is very little guitar shredding here, as this particular ensemble showcases Anastasio’s inner Duke Ellington. With a stage full of experienced musicians behind him, the Languedoc takes a backseat in favor of five-part horn arrangements and multiple percussionists twisting Afrobeat, funk and fusion into a Fela Kuti/Santana bag of consistent up-tempo grooves.
“Olivia” finds the band visiting shades of stirring improv with overlapping jams courtesy of his sax team, while the crowd pleaser “Burlap Sack & Pumps” rides on some funky clichés, with some clever drum fills from Russ Lawton and Cyro Baptista to keep things interesting. “The 5th Round” and “The Horseshoe Curve” feed off the rhythm of a live train rumbling mid-song during a 2002 Pittsburgh gig, while “Tube Top Tony” gives new meaning to the "slinky groove," courtesy of Anastasio’s playful guitar lines and some serious brass from the horn section.
The Horseshoe Curve isn’t a fresh statement, but if it takes a few steps back to get one step forward, this latest ride will prove well worth the ticket.