Julian Gerstin Sextet mixes styles on “The One Who Makes You Happy”

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Julian Gerstin Sextet’s new album represents his professional and academic commitment to seeking inspiration around the world.

Introducing Julian Gerstin

Percussionist Julian Gerstin finds musical inspiration around the globe. He has shown a knack for finding unusual instruments. As part of his globe-trekking approach to music, Gerstin spent two years in Martinique. While there, Gerstin studied the tanbou drum. The unusual percussion piece is played with both hands and one foot.

After developing his skill set on the tanbou, Gerstin composed songs around the instrument. The result is the album, “The One Who Makes You Happy.”

World sounds: Julian Gerstin Sextet

Gerstin is both a composer and percussionist. His PhD research led him to Martinique. While Gerstin’s approach might make him sound like a world music performer, the songs he creates are jazz. Listeners will no doubt feel and hear the jazz structure in each piece, while appreciating the world music instruments used to make the soundscape. In addition, driving rhythms are coupled with lyrical melodies that make each song come to life.

To complete his fusion of jazz and world music, Gerstin put together a skilled ensemble of musicians. In addition to Gerstin on tanbou, congas, percussion and tupan, the group features 10 other members playing instruments such as tumba, quinto, clave, segunda and paila. There is also a flugelhorn, keyboard, piano, clarinet, Nord keyboard, bass and drums. Just looking at the list of instruments could overwhelm potential listeners. However, the sound on the album is never cluttered.

Gerstin seems to have surrounded himself with like-minded performers. The members of his ensemble have impressive backgrounds in such areas as Bulgarian and Macedonian music, salsa, Colombian music, and free jazz. The ensemble members have worked with an array of performers from jazz greats like Earl “Fatha” Hines to alternative rockers, Camper van Beethoven.

Literally, Gerstin and his group seem all over the map. Listeners will benefit from their eclectic backgrounds and playing styles. One thing the ensemble members have in common is jazz.

Julian Gerstin Sextet: “Iroko Hop”

In the beginning, the percussion puts down a clacking rhythm. The sound is less musical instrument and more dancing feet. An upright bass plays a deep, bouncing motif. This goes on until horns come in. The percussion grows more complex. Actually, all the parts become more involved. Roughly halfway through, the song morphs into Latin jazz sounds. Listeners are impressed by this change as the evolution was subtle. A frenzied horn solo reminds everyone that this is, in fact, jazz. No matter what is going on, the song is true to its title; it continues to sound like dancing.

“I Remember It Differently” by Julian Gerstin Sextet

The song begins with an energetic tattoo of drums struck by hand. The sound softens and grows more complex when a searing horn is added and launches into a showcase of frenetic notes.

Listeners can almost imagine this song as a heated back-and-forth discussion between two parties. The escalating voices, the muttered disagreements, and the racing hearts in each. There is a moment that happens in this song where listeners simply agree with its thesis—yes, it does sound like that. When art imitates life, audiences respond positively.

Despite its somewhat academic inspiration, “The One Who Makes You Happy” by Julian Gerstin Sextet is an unforgettable foray into jazz mixed with elements of world music.

The album, “The One Who Makes You Happy,” will be available Sept. 1, 2017.

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