This Land (Westerlies Records)

Theo Bleckmann / The Westerlies

Released January 2021

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2021




Theo Bleckmann and The Westerlies present This Land, a new collaborative project that merges the candor of the human voice with the limitless expressiveness of brass, highlighting the power of music to invigorate protest movements and provide internal solace amidst external turmoil.
This Land features original compositions as well as arrangements and settings of voices of truth from past and present, including Bertolt Brecht, Joni Mitchell, Woody Guthrie, Agha Shahid Ali, and others. Bleckmann delivers the words of these luminaries with the utmost precision and clarity, using his impeccable technique and command of live electronic effects to evoke sounds that range from the brightest clarion to the murkiest dark.
The Westerlies exploit all of the expressive capabilities of their instruments, sometimes brazenly heroic, sometimes painfully intimate. Fearless improvisers and generous collaborators, these artists form an ensemble that is lithe, organic, and formidably cohesive. Although stalwart in their resistance to the boundaries of genre, Bleckmann and The Westerlies welcome the listener into their world with open arms.
This Land is a universe all its own. There is an inherent sense of power, solace and beauty in these songs; the message is resistance, but the music is irresistible.

Track Listing:

1. The Fiddle and the Drum (Joni Mitchell) 02:40

2. Land (Agha Shahid Ali / Andy Clausen) 03:46

3. Two Good Men (Woody Guthrie) 02:05

4. Another Holiday (Theo Bleckmann) 06:05

5. Tear the Fascists Down (Woody Guthrie) 00:51

6. Look for the Union Label (Malcolm Dodds / Paula Green) 02:53

7. Wade in the Water (Traditional) 03:25

8. The Jolly Banker (Woody Guthrie) 00:46

9. Grandmar (Andy Clausen) 06:52

10. In the Sweet by and By/The Preacher and the Slave (Sanford Fillmore Bennett / Joe Hill / Joseph Philbrick Webster) 03:31

11. I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore (Woody Guthrie) 00:44

12. Das Bitten der Kinder (Recitation) 01:00

13. Das Bitten der Kinder (Bertolt Brecht / Paul Dessau) 02:52

14. Looking Out (Riley Mulherkar) 05:10

15. Thoughts and Prayers (Phil Kline) 02:42


Theo Bleckmann: voice & live electronic processing

The Westerlies:
Riley Mulherkar: trumpet
Chloe Rowlands: trumpet
Andy Clausen: trombone
Willem de Koch: trombone

Recorded August 27-29, 2019 at Lethe Lounge, New York, NY
Produced by The Westerlies
Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered by Joseph Branciforte
Additional Engineering by Luke Bergman
Cover Image by John Labbe
Cover Design & Layout by Theo Bleckmann


A thoughtful and gorgeously textured collaboration between vocalist Theo Bleckmann and progressive brass ensemble the Westerlies, 2021’s This Land finds them exploring themes of social protest, American identity, and the search for a safe refuge during times of upheaval. A quartet featuring trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch, the Westerlies have distinguished themselves with their vibrantly cross-pollinated blend of classical, folk, and jazz. Similarly, Bleckmann has garnered acclaim for his virtuoso and often unorthodox brand of vocalese. Together, they bring all of their varied skills to bear on This Land, placing their own harmonically inventive originals alongside finely curated traditional songs.

Especially purposeful is their rendition of Joni Mitchell’s anti-war song “The Fiddle and the Drum,” which they transform into a plaintive and angular chamber piece. We also get a particularly skillful reharmonization of the 1970s garment workers jingle “Look for the Union Label” that flows into a haunting rendition of the 1900s spiritual “Wade in the Water.” And while the tracks with Bleckmann are the most cinematically compelling, we also get several buoyant instrumental tracks, including swinging takes on Woody Guthrie’s “The Jolly Banker,” “Two Good Men,” and “Tear the Fascists Down.” Prominent among the original pieces here is “Land,” a bluesy rumination on being an immigrant that borrows its text from Kashmiri American Muslim author Agha Shahid Ali’s poem of the same name. Equally compelling is Bleckmann’s deeply moving composition “Another Holiday.” Written in the wake of the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the song is a poignant rumination on how some people don’t feel safe to express their love out of fear even within their own family. Some tracks, like the ambient “Grandmar,” are wordless evocations, while others such as “In the Sweet Bye and Bye/The Preacher and the Slave” are more traditional singalongs, bringing to mind the brass bands and folk dances of the 1800s. What’s particularly captivating about Bleckmann and the Westerlies’ work together is how well they blend, his steady vocals mirrored with uncanny clarity by their warm brass intonations. It’s that hopeful sense of unity, both musically and philosophically, that permeates all of This Land.

Matt Collar (AllMusic)