|Site review by ramesh August 20, 2009
|These upbeat ten original compositions comprise a free jazz based, world music fusion collection for a quintet of varying instruments. As is the case with the eclectic 'Songlines' label, this release should appeal not only to those with an interest in jazz or approachable classical contemporary music, but folks interested in exploring the products of the increasingly globalised musical marketplace : original music is increasingly championed by adventurous independent labels which fly under the radar of the marketing-led easy music marshmallows.
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This beautiful, approachable release has the intriguing title of 'Human Activity Suite : sounding a response to climate change'. There are, contrary to expectation, no vocals in this release, so there is no vocal decrying of human despoliation of the environment in the vein of ex-Midnight Oil Aussie rocker-turned Labor Party MP Peter Garrett. 'Sounding a response', is clearly a musical pun. Seven of the works are claimed to be inspired by various continents : South America, North America, Antarctica, Australia, Africa, Europe and Asia, in the running order of the tracks. The composer Brad Shepik has released a previous Songlines SACD which I was very enthusiastic about, 'Lingua Franca', which had similar world music credentials. Whereas that earlier release was for a more traditional jazz trio of guitar, saxophone and drums, 'Human Activity' marshals Shepik on both electric and acoustic guitars, tambura, and electric saz. [ The saz is a Balkan/Middle Eastern plucked long-necked lute, usually called a 'baglama', of which the Greek bouzouki is derived from. 'Tambura' usually refers to the Indian long-necked lute, but according to the liner notes his version is Bulgarian, and appears on the Antarctica track : go figure.] His colleagues are Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Drew Gress on acoustic bass, Tom Rainey with drums, and the exceptional Gary Versace on piano, organ and accordion.
Versace's accordion is heard to scintillating effect on the Latin-inspired opening track, 'Lima'. To my ears, this ebullient and highly textured composition has tango-inspired sections which are reminiscent of Astor Piazzolla's bandoneon, whilst avoiding any charge of being derivative. Again it seems that the free-form and improvisational traits of jazz are able to merge disparate global musical traditions and instruments more successfully than either easy-listening pop or avant-garde classical with its musical baggage of ever-increasing intellectual complexity. Although for me the piano-based Australian track has no specific Antipodean influences-- neither Aboriginal music nor the tie-that-kangaroo-down ineptness of David Helfgott, most of the others have an appropriate flavour. For 'Stir', the Antarctic composition, Shepik says, 'I thought about the Antarctic ice being infinitely old... this ancient ice that's in motion, melting and moving. I see icebergs breaking apart when I hear this piece.'
The 24 bit / 88.2 kHz stereo and MC soundtrack is accomplished, though as is often the case of electronic contributions, here, the electric guitar, there are various ways to blend the sound with the acoustic instruments. The soundstage has great width, though slightly less depth in stereo than many classical chamber recordings.