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Published: 2004/12/31
by Mike Greenhaus

Between Hills Briefly Green – Vermont Youth Orchestra

Following Phish's final pre-Hiatus performance, Trey Anastasio began transcribing his final multi-part epic, "Guyute," into orchestral form. A welcome return to the fully charted classical musing which formed the bedrock for Phish's early repertoire, Anastasio's orchestrated version of "Guyute" hardly seemed threatening when the Vermont Youth Orchestra first presented the baroque piece in February 2001. Yet, in many ways, "Guyute" symbolized Phish's undoing and foreshadowed the layered textures of Anastasio's impending solo work. So it only makes sense that Anastasio's first offering since Phish parted ways last August presents another version of "Guyute," once again interpreted by the Vermont Youth Orchestra.

Recorded in mid-September within the historic confines of Carnegie Hall, Between Hills Briefly Green is a celebration of Vermont. Featuring a handful of Green Mountain notables, including veteran composers Thomas L. Read, David Gunn, and Anastasio’s college mentor Ernest Stires, this live set is intended as souvenir for longtime supporters of Vermont’s rightfully lauded youth orchestra program. Yet, Anastasio’s appearance, no matter how brief, immediately catapults this set into the jamband atmosphere — an elegant insight into the mind of one of jam-nation’s most oft-discussed figures. And, sonically, Between Hills Briefly Green does portray Anastasio at his frailest, a somewhat naked account of the guitarist’s first public performance since Phish parted ways. Reflective by nature, and endearing by virtue of its interpreters, each of the three Anastasio originals offered here take on new, loaded meaning, especially the teary-eyed encore, "Flock of Words." A testament to both the strength of this disc’s young performers and, frankly, Anastasio’s orchestral abilities, each track offered on Between Hills Briefly Green is mature enough to fill Carnegie Hall’s strikingly sober halls without seaming sophomoric.

And, without disrespecting the talented young musicians featured on Between Hills Briefly Green, Anastasio’s presence also resets the VYO in a rock and roll context. While the audience’s scattered screams and "Ghost" chants are muffled on disc, a touch of 1960s art-pop finds its way into many of Between Hills Briefly Green’s tracks. At times, longtime VYO-conductor Troy Peters has been known invoke the name of Beatles producer George Martin, who brought a classical grandeur to rock-pop through his use of strings. And, similar sentiments can be heard in VYO musical director’s own compositions. The disc’s title track has a cartoonish edge and, like many of this disc’s cuts, aims to capture the still restlessness of Vermont’s summers. Best known to jamband followers as Anastasio’s Goddard College professor, Stires also offers a cartoon-like score titled "Violin Concerto " which dips into both swing music and the blues. At one time a controversial move, Stires included a traditional rock drum kit in his arrangement, adding a Phishy edge to his sound.

Yet, not every composer offered on this program explores such modern leanings, however. Ludwig's breezy "Radiance" captures the feel of summer in Saratoga, where it was performed early on, focusing choral textures foreign to the Phish-world. In his album notes, Ludwig makes several references to summer light and fireflies, images which are sonically rendered through principal oboe player Sarah Gibson. Described as a "new waltz," Gunn's "Urban Renewaltz" is also a slightly jazzy variation on a traditional orchestral waltz.

Tagged at the end of this ten-track audio souvenir is a brief mini-set from Anastasio, including the third orchestral version of "Guyute" officially released on CD. While not dramatically different than its predecessors, this "Guyute" is made unique through the echo of Carnegie Hall, a room known for its grand, wooden acoustics. Collectors will also note that the Vermont Youth Orchestra's first performance of "Guyute" from 2001 is also readily available on The Mockingbird Foundation's Sharing in the Groove compilation and on a VHS tape culled from that weekend’s performances.

A novelty at the time, that version of "Guyute" has a grand, sweeping feel, climaxing with a barrage of brass cymbals. Also appearing on Anastasio's somewhat skimpy solo album Seis de Mayo, "Guyute" has remained relatively unchanged, except for the sheer power and size of each orchestra who presents it. While Between Hills Briefly Green’s sonic quality may distract from track’s predecessors, this version of "Guyute" is actually quite ripe. Like its predecessors, "Guyute" is book ended by Anastasio’s "My Friend, My Friend," sections of which originally formed the piece’s head and caboose. A bit less seamless than the VYO’s first performance, Anastasio’s charts have pulled a barrage of ear candy out of once simple phrasings, especially the track’s swift middle section.

For Phish fans still shell-shocked from Coventry, the heart of this Carnegie Hall performance certainly arrived during the evening's closing number, "Flock of Words." Along with VYO alumna Hannah Gephart, Anastasio sums up Between Hills Briefly Green in a trio of lines: "I don’t think that I was expecting a lot / I just saw that I’m being passed… / Let me go, let me go, I need to go."

The third verse to the Trey Anastasio Band staple "Flock Of Words," the message remained buried for years within the confines of an over-polished ballad. Yet, rearranged for a string section, which includes Peters himself, Anastasio leads a streamlined version of the VYO through a teary take on the now precious song. "The Inlaw Josie Wales," also here arranged for guitar and strings, remains one of Anastasio's most naked compositions. More than on any other track, on "Josie Wales," one can sense the direct influence of George Martin's orchestral pop. Another track offered in several arrangements, including on Seis De Mayo, Anastasio might also think about allowing another guitarist to try his hand at the track if he is serious about removing himself from his classical compositions. Either way, Between Hills Briefly Green will remain an unintentional souvenir of post-Phish September 2004, when any "phan" was undoubtedly finding his or her way through a flock of words.

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