After nearly two decades of heading the jam-band behemoth Phish, Trey Anastasio hasn’t slowed down one bit. On the ambitious live solo LP Plasma, Anastasio and his nine-piece stay true to the exploratory and freeform nature of Phish at their best, while venturing down new paths instrumentally through the use of a five-piece horn section and three-man rhythm section.
The first disc opens with the energetic “Curlew’s Call,” fueled by diverse Afro-Cubano rhythms and a percussion solo that eclipses Anastasio’s preceding guitar solo. The opening track is followed by “Plasma,” a song that touches on the jazzier side of Anastasio’s abilities. Immediately following is “Magilla,” an older Phish favorite that features a powerful brass arrangement that adds a musical layer not present on the original version.
The majority of the first disc stays consistent with the strong start of the opening tracks. “Mozambique,” the standout track, showcases both the abilities of the band, through a lively call-and-response performance by the brass section and of Anastasio’s guitar abilities in the Santana-like riffs spread throughout the song. Also of note is “Small Axe,” an instrumental interpretation of a song by Bob Marley.
Although less musically adventurous, Plasma’s second disc still remains a worthwhile listen. “Night Speaks to a Woman,” the sole track on Plasma drawn from Anastasio’s self-titled debut, features a coarse, catchy lead guitar line and highlights Anastasio’s masterful control of tempo. Similar to “Magilla,” the closing track, “Sand,” also builds on previous Phish performances through the addition of distorted guitar not prominent in earlier versions.
Drawing from jazz, reggae, swing, African and Cuban influences, Anastasio creates a unique musical montage, just in time for warmer weather. As Anastasio states in “Curlew’s Call,” “The message that I get from spring / Is that a change can surely bring / A break from the sullen winter skies.” Through danceable rhythms and instrumental experimentation, Plasma makes a good accompaniment to the change in mood.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars.