Vida Blue, led by Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, is very much the keyboard dude's solo album. McConnell, who only contributed two entirely original compositions to Phish's catalog over their 17-year career, is still a new songwriter and bandleader -- an odd move to make nearly 20 years into his career as a professional musician. In many ways, Vida Blue is more surprising than either of guitarist Trey Anastasio's post-Phish works, if only because -- as Phish's de facto bandleader -- Anastasio's aesthetic has long been obvious. Joined by Allman Brothers (and former Aquarium Rescue Unit) bassist Oteil Burbridge and drummer Russell Batiste, McConnell produces a mix of instrumentals and new original compositions. The music alternates between synthesizer-driven live electronica explorations, such as "Most Events Aren't Planned" and "Fresh Tube," and more traditional songs, such as "Electra Glide." Much of the live electronic material sounds remarkably like some of the jam bands that Phish helped spawn throughout the '90s, such as Canada's the New Deal, though the sounds McConnell employs are more humanistic than James Shields' perfectly cold lines. The three veteran instrumentalists mesh well, though it is apparent that they haven't playing as a unit for all too long and are clearly new at improvising in this particular mode. Burbridge, in particular, plays better than he has in a while, restraining himself from the tasteless scatting that often punctuates his guest appearances with other bands. Some of Batiste's playing seems a touch heavy-handed, coming off almost prog-like at times, instead of fluidly groove-oriented. It is an interesting and promising debut, should McConnell decide to commit to the project and really pursue it.
Vida Blue Review
by Jesse Jarnow