Percussionist Julian Gerstin is a respected member of the music community. That goes without saying. Gerstin holds a PhD in Anthropology, an MFA in Music Composition, is an author, and has recorded and performed with some of the most well-known and respected figures in the realms of Afro-Latin and African music. To that end, there is no doubt as to his pedigree. All of this is just a portion of why Gerstin is himself so well-known and respected. Just this weekend (Friday to be precise) Gerstin continued to cement his reputation with the release of his new album, Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena. Released through Zabap Music, the 12-song record proves itself a presentation that will appeal to a wide range of audiences through its combined musical and lyrical content. The album’s opener, ‘American History’ is one way in which that appeal is proven. It will be discussed shortly. ‘La Casa Violeta,’ a later entry in the 59-minute record, is another way in which it shows its appeal. It will be discussed a little later. ‘Ways to Hear Each Other’ is yet another way in which the record shows its strength. It will also be discussed later. All three songs noted here are important in their own way to proving the album’s appeal. When they are considered along with the rest of the record’s entries, the whole makes the album a work whose success proves itself anything but elusive.
Julian Gerstin’s latest album, Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena, is a work that a wide range of audiences will want to explore. That is thanks to its musical and lyrical content. That content is diverse throughout the record. ‘American History,’ the album’s opener is a powerful commentary about…well…America’s history. Its musical arrangement takes Gerstin’s Afro-Latin influences and pairs that with an equally noticeable funk groove that collectively makes for quite the interesting musical presentation. Vocalist Wanda Houston’s spoken-word delivery joins with that pairing of influences to make the song’s musical side even more unique and original. It makes the whole come across as something akin to a beat poet style presentation just with Afro-Latin and funk musical backing. It really makes for so much interest.
Speaking of Houston’s spoken word delivery, what she delivers is a series of phrases spoken by famous figures in history. From words spoken by some of America’s founding fathers, to a cynical take on a statement from President Abraham Lincoln, to a famous phrase from President Theodore Roosevelt incorporated into its own scathing commentary and more, these statements make a fierce overall statement in their collective presentation. It is a statement about the social injustices that have happened against so many groups throughout the nation’s history. Gerstin even comments on all of this in the liner notes featured in the album’s companion booklet. The whole thing ends with Houston lifting from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech by replacing the single word “Have” with the word “Had”. That simple change is so powerful in its own right because it reflects a certain cynicism about where the country is today and what has led the country to be at its current point. It is a powerful first impression from Gerstin in this album and is certain to keep audiences engaged through the rest of the album.
The engagement that ‘American History’ is sure to generate among audiences means that audiences will likely stay engaged all the way to the starkly different ‘La Casa Violeta.’ That song comes more than halfway through the album’s nearly hour-long run. There are no lyrics to this song, though Gerstin states in the liner notes featured in the album’s companion booklet that the song is a tribute to his wife and to the couple’s home which “The post office has delivered mail addressed to ‘The Purple House’ without our street number.’ That is a sign of the house’s notoriety. One can feel the pride that Gerstin has in the house in the relaxed tones and beat presented in the song’s arrangement.
The arrangement in question is completely opposite of that featured in ‘American History.’ Where that song fused Gerstin’s Afro-Latin leanings with a more funk style approach, this song is more of a pure, Latin composition. Gerstin even points out of that approach in the song’s liner notes, that the arrangement “is a guajira that becomes a cha cha cha.” If the arrangement is a tribute just as much to Gerstin’s wife as to the house, then the relaxed sense in this song would seem to reflect the ease that she makes him feel. If in fact that interpretation is somewhere in the proverbial ballpark, then Gerstin has definitely succeeded in translating that message here. It is just one more way in which the album’s collective content shows its strength. ‘Ways To Hear Each Other’ is yet another example of how the album’s content makes it an interesting presentation.
Ways To Hear Each Other’ is a song that according to Gerstin, came verbatim from an online gathering of musicians, partly a remembrance of Diane Moser and partly a search for how to make music together when we’re apart, as we have been this year.” As a little bit of back story, Gerstin points out in the liner notes’ opening that this entire album was crafted in 2020 during quarantined. Gerstin and his fellow musicians had to make their music over the use of online meetings, just like so many people nationwide had to work. Additionally, he writes of the song, “I hope this song works as a metaphor of human pain and connection.” The musical arrangement featured in this song does well to translate that sense of mental pain that everyone has felt in dealing with doing everything online, distanced from one another. That is because the use of the chords played on the piano and the use of the shaker creates a certain sense of tension. The redundancy of it all conjures thoughts of a clock ticking, time passing. It succeeds well here.
Gerstin and company talking about whether they can hear each other as they try to talk about certain arrangements adds to the tension. Everyone has heard or used the comments stated here, whether it be “I hear an echo/I don’t think it’s my fault/I’ve been overwhelmed/One after another” or “Not able to hear/I can hear it/It’s super faint/I have very low signal” etc. these are comments that so many people have made more than once over the course of the past year-plus during those online meetings. That ability of listeners to relate to all of the stress caused by these online meetings makes this song that much more accessible. When it is all paired with the feeling of tension in the song’s musical arrangement, the whole – which is so much unlike anything else featured in the album – shows that much more why this song stands out. When the song in whole is considered along with the other songs examined here and the rest of the album’s entries, that whole shows even more how the album’s collective content makes it such an interesting presentation. All things considered, Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena proves itself a record whose success is sure to be anything but elusive.
Julian Gerstin’s latest album, Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena is a presentation that will appeal to a wide range of audiences. That is proven through its collective musical and lyrical content. From one song to the next, Gerstin and his fellow musicians offer audiences something different in regards to each song’s musical and lyrical content. All three of the songs examined here serve well to support the noted statements. From the serious to the simple, the lyrical themes offer much to appreciate. The arrangements each offer their own unique presentations, too. All things considered, the album proves itself a record that a wide range of audiences will enjoy exploring.
Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena is available now through Zabap Music. More information on the album is available along with all of Gerstin’s latest news at https://www.juliangerstin.com.
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