Brad Shepik's Human Activity Suite
is a ten-part mingling of world music materials from various cultures and ecological concerns. Sponsored by Chamber Music America's New Works program, the project sees guitarist Shepik enlarging his usual trio with Gary Versace on keyboards and Tom Rainey on drums to include trumpeter Ralph Alessi and bassist Drew Gress. The result is downright orchestral; Alessi adding clarion leads to the guitarist's works as Gress thickens the already complex, underlying textures.
Seven of the pieces are named for continents and there's a certain amount of mimesis in the compositions. "Lima (South America)" has a decidedly Latin flare to its melody and rhythms, as well as Versace's idiomatic accordion and a village-band feel to Alessi's trumpet. Shepik himself doubles on tambura and electric saz, adding distinctive Indian and middle-Eastern elements, as in the Indian-tinged "Waves (Asia)," with the accordion sounding very much like a harmonium.
However, there's more going on here than a travelogue. It's the meditative richness of the musicits compelling sense of endangered cultures and the quiet intensity of its feelingsthat gives this work its character. The level of playing is consistently high, with Shepik among the most articulate and quickest-witted of guitarists, able to find subtle nuance even within a concentrated electric sound. Alessi's alternately mournful and crisp lines seem to cut at the edge of meaning while Versaceplaying piano, accordion and organgoes far beyond mere orchestral color, turning in particularly strong performances on piano. Rainey's loose drumming, at once casual and vital, adds a special animation and contributes to the distinctiveness of the band's sound. A frequent use of modal underpinnings knits together Shepik's music, a sense of larger unities under the detailed and sometimes fractured surfaces. It's an effective combination of extended composition and developed group dialogue.
Personnel: Brad Shepik: electric and acoustic guitars; tambura; electric saz; Ralph Alessi, trumpet; Gary Versace: piano, organ; accordion; Drew Gress: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.