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The Westerlies: Wherein Lies the Good (Westerlies)

A review of the third album from the brass band

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The Westerlies, Wherein Lies the Good
The cover of Wherein Lies the Good by The Westerlies

The Westerlies hew much closer to the “British” (or “Salvation Army,” if you like) flavor of brass band than the currently trending “street-funk” flavor. Nevertheless, the double-trumpet (Riley Mulherkar, newcomer Chloe Rowlands), double-trombone (Andy Clausen, Willem de Koch) ensemble comes closer to tearing the roof off the sucker on its third album, Wherein Lies the Good, than ever before.

It’s both odd and fitting that the moments of maximum funk should come during their chain of five transcriptions of traditional gospel songs, as arranged by long-lived vocal group the Golden Gate Quartet. This tracks with the Westerlies’ in-your-face eclecticism—and frankly isn’t a big leap from the Charles Ives transcriptions that are an essential element of their music. (He gets his turn on the album as well, in the solemn “In the Mornin’” and playful “Memories.”) There is, though, a new zest to the rhythms of “Golden Gate Gospel Train” and a new warmth to the woozy interactions of “Remember Me.” By the sequence-ending “Do Unto Others,” they’re awfully close to New Orleans jazz rhythms (albeit without the counterpoint), a piquant reminder of the through lines in black American music.

Of course, such through lines are a fraction of the Westerlies’ pursuits, and Wherein Lies the Good also proffers stateliness (Judee Sill’s “The Kiss,” de Koch’s “From the Very First Time,” Mulherkar’s “Entropy” triptych), brashness (Arthur Russell’s “Eli”), and mournfulness (Rowlands’ “Laurie,” in honor of Laurie Frink). Then there’s the title track, a composition by Robin Holcomb that crams all of the above—and more—into 11 segments and nearly 15 minutes. That diversity keeps the piece from ever quite cohering; it reads less as a single piece and more as a demo reel for the band. On the other hand, with the kind of sprawl that they’ve mastered, maybe coherence is beside the point.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.