Twenty Years Later: Trey Anastasio Presents Surrender To The Air

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On April 1 and 2, 1996 Phish frontman Trey Anastasio helped close The Academy in New York City with a pair of performances from his free jazz Surrender To The Air project. The shows came less than a month after the first and only Surrender To The Air album was released via Elektra Records. Anastasio put the self-titled album and shows together to honor the legacy of Sun Ra.

For Surrender To The Air, Anastasio was joined by Marshall Allen, Damon R. Choice, Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Michael Ray, James Harvey, Jon Fishman, Oteil Burbridge, Kofi Burbridge and Bob Gulloti. Trey’s Phish band mate Page McConnell was a special guest for portions of the second show. Each performance was completely improvised in keeping with the spirit of the eclectic and profoundly influential Sun Ra.

I attended the April 2nd performance and had no idea what I was getting into. The venue was packed and from the shouts of “Weekapaug!” and “Fluffhead!” it appeared I wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand the concept coming into the night. Each member of the ensemble was extremely talented, and multiple performers would be soloing at one time with plenty of dissonant music involved.

Trey led the group with hand signals and a few vocal cues. There were a handful of “songs” performed during each set and my favorite part of the evening was when the musicians would build to a furious peak when it seemed like everyone on stage was soloing hard at the same time. To say my mind was blown would be an understatement.

Surrender To The Air isn’t for everyone, but it did open my young eyes to the world of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and for that I’ll always be grateful. With that in mind, watch fan-shot video of Surrender To The Air’s live debut from 20 years ago today in New York City: