Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Julian Gerstin: “Music For The Exploration Of Elusive Phenomena” (2021) CD Review

Julian Gerstin’s latest release, Music For The Exploration Of Elusive Phenomena, was created during the pandemic, with each musician recording his or her parts separately and remotely. In fact, the disc’s liner notes begin with these words: “This is a Covid-19 album.” So, yes, some good things have come out of this crazy pandemic. The album features mostly original material, written by Julian Gerstin. Julian Gerstin plays drums, congas, timbales and other percussion, as well as piano (which is sort of a percussion instrument, isn’t it?) on one track, and even provides some vocal work. Joining him on this release are Eugene Uman on piano and keyboards, Don Anderson on trumpet and flugelhorn, John Wheeler on trombone, Michael Zsoldos on saxophone and flute, Jon Weeks on saxophone, Jim Heffron on baritone saxophone, Derrik Jordan on violin, Jason Ennis on guitar, Bob Everingham on tenor guitar, Wes Brown on bass, Jay Cook on bass, Ben James on drums, Josh Francis on drums, and Anna Patton on clarinet and vocals. Also providing vocals on various tracks are Wanda Houston, Sarah LeMieux, Zara Bode, Mario Inchausti and Carlene Raper.       

The album opens with a fantastic song, a song of our times, titled “American History.” This funky tune makes use of some well-known lines in a new way, sort of like the cut-up method, running lines like “Carry a big stick,” “America first,” and “I cannot tell a lie” together, as well as “I have a dream,” “Make love, not war,” “Power to the people” “For the people, by the people,” taking their original meanings, and adding another layer of current relevance, which is incredibly effective. That’s Wanda Houston on vocals, turning in an absolutely excellent and captivating performance. “I am not a crook/I didn’t inhale/I’m the decider.” And when she repeats “I cannot tell a lie” at that point, she laughs. Guess whom she might have had in mind in that moment?  I love the way she delivers the lines, “Build that wall/Tear down that wall/Build that wall,” putting emphasis on the word “that” in the second and third lines in the sequence, showing how ridiculous things are, how ridiculous some people are. Well, as Ruth Gordon says in Harold And Maude, “Consistency is not really a human trait.” This is a powerful piece, one of my personal favorite tracks. It is followed by “Too Happy To Sleep,” a fun, enjoyable number, featuring some good percussion and a wonderful lead on guitar. Julian Gerstin and Zara Bode provide the vocals.

We then return to thoughts of that complete disaster of a president and human being in “After The Sleep Of Lies.” I foolishly thought once the bastard was out of office, things would rapidly get better, that the country would, in effect, wake up and begin to heal. I didn’t count on the Republican Party holding onto his lies and repeating them, at even louder volume, and keeping the country from being able to move forward. So we are still caught in the grip of a national nightmare. Sarah LeMieux provides the vocals on this track. “After the sleep of lies/Reason awakens/And looks around for a clean shirt/Something without blood on it/Without a corporate logo/Or the stink of betrayal.” That’s followed by “Spruce Street,” an instrumental track that feels like it takes us down the roads of a small town, where, somehow, there aren’t many worries. This track features some bright, expressive work from the brass section, and I love that lead on clarinet.

The album’s only cover is an excellent rendition of “Long Journey Home,” which begins as a soulful, haunting piece, then after a minute or so takes on a funky element. Sarah LeMieux delivers a magnificent vocal performance here, backed by Zara Bode and Anna Patton. Plus, I love that saxophone. “If you see someone who doesn’t look like you/Tell them take my love, find your way/If you see someone who doesn’t talk like you/Tell them take my love, find your way.” That’s followed by “The Almost Happy Camel,” a light, enjoyable instrumental track. As you might have noticed, it is the second track to include the word “Happy” in its title. At times these days it feels like happiness is difficult to attain, and we have to basically will a state of happiness into existence. The best bet for doing so is through music. I particularly dig the percussion on this track, which feels to be the heart of this one. “Remember And See” also features some excellent and interesting percussion, with the horns rising above that. I especially love Don Anderson’s lead on trumpet.

“La Casa Violeta” is another of the disc’s highlights. Purple is one of my two favorite colors, and I would love to live in a purple house. Actually, I’d love to live in a house, period. But for now I can enjoy this song about a purple house. After all, this one too features some cool percussion. And then the vocal work by Mario Inchausti and Julian Gerstin in the second half has a pleasant, relaxed vibe. That’s followed by “Beautiful Blur,” which also has a good feel about it, and features some wonderful work on flute. It feels like the theme to a cool film that someone should make. This track also contains a good lead on trombone. “Ways To Hear Each Other” is an interesting piece. I wonder, do we listen to each other anymore? Different voices are presented here, sometime working in conjunction, sometimes seemingly on their own, the lyrics delivered as spoken word. It almost feels like a theatre piece. “I hear an echo/I don’t think it’s my fault/One after another/I’ve been overwhelmed.” Beneath the voices is some steady percussion, as well as a rather haunting, repeated part on piano. This track is actually about musicians trying to work with each other remotely, and there is some humor in it. Julian Gerstin and Carlene Raper provide vocal work. “Serious Fun” features some wonderful percussion that is as its title promises. I also dig that work on keys. The album concludes with “All Day Every Day,” a track that is all about percussion, which of course I completely love. It’s a playful, cool piece that might get you bopping around your home.

CD Track List

  1. American History
  2. Too Happy To Sleep
  3. After The Sleep Of Lies
  4. Spruce Street
  5. Long Journey Home
  6. The Almost Happy Camel
  7. Remember And See
  8. La Casa Violeta
  9. Beautiful Blur
  10. Ways To Hear Each Other
  11. Serious Fun
  12. All Day Every Day

Music For The Exploration Of Elusive Phenomena was released on July 1, 2021.

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