Veteran percussionist and composer Julian Gerstin makes a humble admission in his liner notes to The Old City, a truly riveting journey he takes with his supple, game for adventure sextet through a multitude of rhythmically diverse dance styles from across the globe. As one who came to composing late in life, he acknowledges the extra effort each member of his musical tribe took – including being “quizzed” by drummer Ben James on details of rhythms – to bring his raw pieces to full-fledged, glorious and shimmering life.
Yet The Old City is more than simply a reflection on the art of collaboration by Gerstin and his fellow jazz masters James Anna Patton (clarinet), Don Anderson (trumpet, flugelhorn), Eugene Uman (piano) and Wes Brown (bass). It’s the fulfillment of the percussionist’s vision of a globally conscious album, exploring all the rhythms that grew out of the AABBACCA rondo form that emerged from European classical music and made its way throughout the New World. The ensemble starts in a lyrical, easy flowing, then suddenly sharp and densely percussive mode on the title track that introduces the wild dynamics that are to come.
With all original compositions, and brass sizzle to spare, they tap into a Cuban descarga (“Jugo de Mambo”), folkloric Balkan-inspired music (“Human Element,” “The Deaf Singer”), the Martinique specific mazouk form (“Pwan Lajan-lan,” “Soukwe Soukwe”), cheery Cuban dance music (“Que Guapo Es Mi Company”) and vibrant Afro-Cuban on the closer “Santa Barbara Blues.” Gerstin has enjoyed a lengthy 40 year career playing countless percussion instruments with legends in many genres.
All those experiences go into The Old City, a fascinating expression of uncommon depth, scope and inventiveness. It’s a big, groove intensive world out, and there’s no doubt that the percussionist and his amazing ensemble is getting ready to do some more traveling in the future.