If you're into latter-day progressive rock, you are undoubtedly familiar with the name Trey Gunn, who was part of Robert Fripp's King Crimson from 1994 to 2003. Gunn has a slew of other credits under his belt, including collaborations with David Sylvian, Michael Brook, John Paul Jones, Steven Wilson, Jerry Marotta, Sean Malone, and a host of others as well as having a number of solo albums. Gunn's instrument of choice here is touch guitar (Warr guitar), an instrument that combines both bass and melodic strings on a single fretboard, related to the Chapman Stick. I've come to find that 'The Waters, They Are Rising' has been out for well over a year. My apologies that sometimes things get buried in the stacks of releases we are sent for review, and we only have a limited number of reviewers with limited time (hey, this isn't all we do) so better later than never, eh?
I have to admit that I gave up on Fripp's KC after 'Three of a Perfect Pair' so I'm not familiar with Gunn's work there, nor have I ever heard any of his solo albums. 'The Waters, They Are Rising' isn't what you's expect of a Crimson prog-rock guitar alumnus, but then again Gunn is far from your average prog-rock guitarist, and touch guitar isn't your typical prog-rock guitar. The majority of 'TW,TAR' is ambient, at times in the mode of Frippertronics, but not exactly. The album begins with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet" sung by Dylan Nichole Bandy. Her husky alto voice sings this track in a languid style that's perfect for the feeling of what's to come backed only by Gunn's touch guitar. The rest of the tracks (2-11) are instrumentals that are based on Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes the Flood" and and music for a recent film score. (Sonya Lee's "Every Beautiful Thing.") Some were done live, some in the studio. You would be hard-pressed to figure out which is which, or what is what as it all seems to flow together. (This is supposed to be the first in a series of recordings based on different themes; "Flow" for this one, "Gravity" for the next.) When I first listened to this, I really didn't care for it. Seemed to me like a lot of sparse improvisational guitar with some electronic processing without aim or direction. In the background can be heard heavily processed spoken word at times on one track. Kinda thin on substance I thought. Subsequent listenings produced a markedly different opinion as aim and direction can definitely be discened by the careful ear. This is all about ebb and flow, where the most basic sonic elements can run very deep, as deep as the rising waters presented in the title. Each of the ten tracks of the instrumental portion of the album has its own feel and texture, and while undoubtedly minimal, presents a rich ambience that is unique. While much of it has no rhythmic component, there are a couple of sections that do- "The Seven Who Were Saved," and "The Final Wave." They are subtle to be sure, but you can't miss them. Bandy's voice makes a brief, wordless reprise on the final track, "The First Return," a nice bookend to close out the album. Overall, The Waters, They Are Rising' is an interesting, absorbing kind of ambient music, much more likely to be appreciated by connoisseurs of the contemplative than Gunn's core fanbase.