I grew up in a small village in Southern Germany, my parents’ house is in the center of it just opposite the church. Some of the neighboring houses belong to the parish and twice a week the Protestant trombone choir has its rehearsals there. Especially in the summer they practiced with the windows open, so I could not avoid hearing them. Unfortunately, they were really terrible, the musicianship was poor, and the songs from the hymn book they played bored me to death which is why I hated trombones for a very long time. It only changed when Paul Rutherford and Johannes Bauer in Peter Brötzmann’s März Combo showed me what was possible with the instrument.
Another great young trombonist of the younger generation is Jacob Garchik, whose “The Heavens - The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album” is a nine-song-selection for trombone choir, all performed by himself (he plays up to eight trombones, two sousaphones, two baritone and alto horns and slide trumpet). As the title suggests the album is about religious music and spirituality from anatheist’s perspective, that’s why you cannot only find gospels on it (e.g. “Dialogue with my Great-Grandfather”) but also soul songs (“This Song is the Center ofthe Universe”), a Ray-Charles-quotation (“The Heavens”), country music (“Glory/Infinity/Nothing”) and Doo Wop pop songs (“Be Good”). Even though his overall love for gospel shines through permanently, another very important influence is Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy and its deep admiration for the blues and funk of New Orleans Brass Bands.
“I was inspired to create this project out of a deep love for gospel music, and for religious music in general.” says Garchik in the notes. “I knew I had to play it but I wanted to do it on my own terms and in a way that was honest. In my mind, music and religion are both amazing reflections of human creativity.”
As to the underlying philosophy of the album there are two programmatic songs, the funk stomper “The Problem of Suffering” and the soul number “Digression on the History of Jews and Black Music”, because they deal with the similarities between African-American and Jewish history. Steven Lee Beeber (author of “The Heebie Jeebies at the CBGB’s”) points out that both people share a similar history from slavery to displacement and genocide and emphasizes the role of music in the process of assimilation to American society. He also explains that one of the central messages of the Pesach feast was that Jews were never allowed to support slavery and oppression because they were slaves in Egypt themselves. This historical motif of the Jews as children of Israel is also a central image in many gospel songs of the African-American church, which leads us back to this album. And Stanley Crouch adds that “they [the Jews] have a joy of life that's cynical, which is basically the same sensibility as the blues sensibility. That's a greater connection than atrocities.”
Even if Garchik claims that he is an atheist quoting Stephen Hawking on his website (“It would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn't prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary.”) this does not mean that all this stuff mentioned above is not part of a collective memory.
Most songs are just a couple of minutes long, the longest being just over six minutes, and the entire album only runs for 28 minutes – this is almost apunk/DIY attitude (but that’s a different kettle of fish).
Great album, great fun to listen to.
It is available on Garchik’s bandcamp page http://jacobgarchik.bandcamp.com/, where you can stream it in its entirety and purchase it in a number of file formats.
Listen to “Digression on the History of Jews and Black Music” here: