Us An' Them
FROM BLITZ MAGAZINE'S WEB SITE: THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME By Michael McDowell US AN'THEM - Garry Dial And Terre Roche (Just Dial Roche) Inflammatory political rhetoric has been front and center in the mass media for decades. Even more so in this first decade of the new millennium, in which it is becoming more readily apparent that the last days of which the Biblical books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation foretold are imminent. In such a volatile climate, many of the world's nations have been experiencing political upheaval. In the process, some of it's leading entertainment figures have become self- appointed guardians of the public trust, weighing in on matters of state with varying degrees of credibility. Sadly, many of their endeavors have also proven to be neither selfless or bereft of impartiality. Enter pianist Garry Dial and singer/songwriter Terre Roche; two highly regarded figures in their respective favored idioms (jazz and folk), who have provided herein an altruistic forum for artists to weigh in by providing their own interpretations of sixteen national anthems. Altruistic in that they have asked nothing more of the various participants than to deliver to the best of their ability and with faithfulness to their respective artistic visions. Although they both have opted to use their public podium to champion their respective causes over the years, of the two, it is Roche whose work has gravitated more towards the political spotlight. As cofounder of the Park Ridge, New Jersey-based Roches (with sisters Maggie and Suzzy), Terre Roche has maintained an undercurrent of social consciousness in her work (which in part was influenced by Gospel, folk and rock and roll); in turn inspiring such like minded artists as the Chenille Sisters and collaborations with Paul Simon, King Crimson's Robert Fripp and others. Conversely, Dial (who concurrently serves as a professor at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City) has prioritized academia in his mission statement. Nonetheless, as a one time collaborator with trumpeters Ira Sullivan and the late Charlie Parker sideman, Robert Roland "Red Rodney" Chudnick, Dial has as a result emphasized the passion factor in his academic discipline. Roche and Dial actually laid the groundwork for this project in the early 1990s, gradually entrusting the rendering of each anthem to artists either under their tutelage or with demonstrated vision of their respective anthems as a celebratory device, rather than one subjected to the ever changing winds of the political climate. In that respect, they have kept the original blueprint intact while allowing each participant carte blanche within those parameters. Although Roche and Dial profess no particular agenda in the selection of the sixteen anthems presented in this collection, each does have the common thread of adaptability in both structure and execution. And although one selection does not even represent a specific country (Esperanto, which celebrates the language founded in 1887 by ophthalmologist Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof as an international means of communication), each soloist (assisted as needed by either Roche or Dial) brings just enough of their own mission statement to the table to season the mix, with Executive Producer Bob Justich giving them the free rein to do so. To that effect, Brazil's national anthem benefits from a sympathetic rendering from Barbara Mendes with Dial's Sergio Mendes-flavored, flute (by the New York City-based Anne Drummond) and percussion (from Forro In The Dark's Mauro Refosco) friendly arrangement. Likewise, the great nation of Israel is rightfully lauded by Dial's exuberant score, allowing vocalist Levi Kaplan to extol it's numerous virtues without succumbing to hyperbole. And in some instances, the universal language of music herein portrays the host nations in unlikely yet compatible lights. Witness the quasi-Manhattan Transfer meets McCoy Tyner and Prestige era Miles Davis romp (with Roche on lead vocals) through La Marseillaise, the national anthem of jazz-happy France. Or the Time Further Out-era Dave Brubeck take on Austria's Land Der Berge, Land Am Strome. Bridging any perceived gap is tantamount to the project's objectives, according to Dial in the featurette in the accompanying DVD. The DVD also includes brief and fascinating spotlights on participating artists Susan McKeown (Ireland), Sidiki Conde (Guinea), Samir Chatterjee (India) and Namgyal Neshi (Tibet). Perhaps the lone exception to the project's professed musical and cultural solidarity is Dial's low key take on Calixa Lavallee's O Canada, which succeeded God Save The Queen as Canada's national anthem in July 1980. Rendered with it's original grandeur intact, a solid case could be made for O Canada as being the greatest of all national anthems. It's Gospel-like reverence portrays the splendor of the provinces with the utmost of national adoration. However, regarded in the light of provincial public opinion having taken umbrage with the mass media's portrayal of Parliament and it's handling of certain so-called "hot button" issues (as reflected in the results of the 14 October national elections), Dial's Manhattan School Of Music colleague, Peter Eldridge may well be within reason in downplaying the reverential elements of the piece in favor of the compassionate and intimate ones. To be certain, Us An' Them is a resounding success on all counts. And given the wide range of possibilities extant with a proposed second volume (which would benefit greatly from the inclusion of such unlikely participants as Cuba and North Korea), Dial and Roche may well find themselves once again sowing the seeds of their harvest for some time to come. 2. 'Two measures into the Brazilian National Anthem I was considering renting a condo in Sao Paulo. This is one of those rare occasions when expectation proved a sad reminder of my limited perspective on what is possible. You and Garry have far exceeded the already lofty idea I anticipated. The album is like those Russian nesting dolls where you open one, and another is revealed,and another,and another. Each a perfectly calibrated gift. Each connected but separate from the one before. The connection here, of course, being the global bond of music. The fact that we're listening to national anthems is almost an aside. Any scent of pomp or ceremony is deftly deflected by the jazz flavored arrangements and realspeak vocal interpretations. Even the more traditional and familiar compositions are given a nuanced twist that made me hear them as if for the very first time. My pitch would be something like: 'If world travel isn't in the cards for you this year because of money or airport anxiety, pour yourself a good wine or cold beer. Get comfortable and hit the 'play' button on 'Us an'Them'. You'll be transported to places you've never been and places you'll remember well.' And again, I think the cover art 'pops' and instantly conveys a sense of the unusual tracks secreted within. It's something of a passport, bearing stamps of officialdom and whimsy, bold fonts and cloud continents. Thanks!' - C.