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Brad Shepik: Human Activity Suite

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Deep-blue oceans, airbrushed clouds, flaking dabs of greens receding into desolate plains... Remember the first time you saw a picture of the Earth? Remember that feeling?

Did you know one can cover the Earth with one's thumb when standing from the Moon? Defenseless in the pitch-black, still silence of the Universe, our home—at least, that of the time of a few nanoseconds stolen from eternity—now faces more threats from its own inhabitants than from other celestial bodies possibly hitting its trajectory around the Sun.

Singing nature's beauty is nothing new for artists. Though very much an act of creation and expression, music making remains fundamentally one of communion, not only between its partakers, but also with the immediate environment in which sounds are created and travelled. Echoing chants and carrying them over whispering air streams to die deep into the deserts of our souls, nature, in turn, forever keeps singing the artists' songs. To quote an old Satchmo classic, a wonderful world it is indeed.

In his ode Human Activity Suite—which, it must be noted, possesses a very Greenpeace conference-like subtitle, "Sounding a Response to Climate Change"—guitarist Brad Shepik caps his longstanding concern with the hot-button issue. The harsh realism of the subject matter and title notwithstanding, nothing is a bore in this musical missive. Whereas many of his predecessors romanticize the delivery of their message with New Age-y hogwash, the New York City-based ethnomusicologist/composer presents an imaginative travelogue-type program that is as moving melodically and harmonically as it is sonically.

From the hypnotic rounds of Shepik's tambura in "Blue Marble" to the slow movements of Antarctic ice depicted in the processional "Stir," by way of the dancing, Klezmer-inflected "Waves" and Gary Versace's folk-y, South American-tinged accordion on "Lima" and melodious maneuvering in "Not So Far," the quintet sticks a pin on each the seven continents and peppers its worldly excursion of three programmatic pieces about the factors and effects of climate change.

Making the trip with Shepik and uber-creative pianist Versace are veterans bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey, as well as trumpeter Ralph Alessi, whose pungent, brassy tone blends rather well with the leader's Dave Fiuczynski-reminiscent approach to guitar sound and playing.

As noted in the liner notes, music, as one of the most elevated mechanisms of communication, can raise awareness and spur to action. And for that, as for the seriousness which threads through the project's artistic direction and extra-musical message, Brad Shepik deserves one giant thumbs up.

Track Listing: Lima (South America); Blindspot (North America); Human Activity; Stir (Antarctica); Not So Far (Australia); Current; Carbonic; Blue Marble (Africa); By a Foot (Europe); Waves (Asia).

Personnel: Brad Shepik: electric and acoustic guitars, tambura, electric saz; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Gary Versace: piano, organ, accordion; Drew Gress: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.

Title: Human Activity Suite | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings


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