Social issues are not new to jazz composers. Sonny Rollins and Charles Mingus wrote music in the heyday of the civil right movement and more recently Charlie Haden produced his antiwar Not In Our Name
(Verve, 2005) for his Liberation Music Orchestra. Guitarist Brad Shepik, like many of us, is thinking globally. He speaks to the issues of climate change with his Human Activity Suite
Commissioned by Chamber Music America and funded by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, he takes in all seven continents, borrowing from indigenous folk music. In the case of Antarctica ("Stir"), he doesn't play penguin music, he constructs, if it is possible, an icy atmosphere plucked over the organ tones of Gary Versace. Perhaps the eeriest and most emotional piece here, its simple melody is also it's most urgent, as the great ice shelves begin to slowly disappear.
Shepik employs a talented bunch to realize his suite. Along with long time collaborators Versace and Tom Rainey, he adds bassist Drew Gress and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. This cast is asked to morph into varying styles and motifs throughout. "Lima" bustles with activity as Versace's accordion paces the trumpet/guitar dance. "Not So Far" and "Carbonic" are the two tunes exhibiting an overtly jazz-related feel in terms of traditional sound. Elsewhere it is possible to identify the music geographically, as with his electric saz playing on the African "Blue Marble" and the references to Chinese orchestra music for "Waves."
But more than playing ethnic music, Shepik opts for a greater global perspective. This recording documents the guitarist's trip around this ever heating planet and his brilliant touch is evident throughout.
Personnel: Brad Shepik: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, tambura, electric saz; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Gary Versace: piano, organ, accordion; Drew Gress: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.