Gerry Weil, El Maestro. The 81-year-old Venezuelan (via Austria) has taught his country’s future musicians for over 40 years now. “I started teaching with my bicycle all over Caracas. I would put up flyers in pharmacies and supermarkets promoting music lessons.” This evangelical dedication to the craft coupled with his spiritual definition of music, “A gesture of love to us by the divine and our answer with passion and thankfulness”, leads to an understandably deep affection for him held by colleagues, fans, and students alike.
“The Message”, the inaugural release of the Música Infinita label, saw the first light of day back in 1971. It’s a hippy, Caribbean jazz-rock fusion, delivered in a big band style by 16 of Venezuela’s finest: 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, 4 reeds, 3 drums/percussion, electric guitar and bass, and El Gerry on piano and organ.
The album opener, “The Joy Within Yourself”, releases that joy out of itself. El Gerry kicks it off with some mucky organ, the (big) band tipsily glides, swells and horn stabs and he delivers a vocal that has the parental part of me pouring Lemsip and getting him checked out for laryngitis. He rolls around his piano as he sings before some gorgeously-hip, ganged, feline voices and a fuzzy, volume-boosted solo by guitarist Vinicio Ludovic bring us to a stumbling, boozy, bluesy end.
I got lots of problems but “The Bull’s Problem” ain’t one. It’s a choppy, Rhodes-comping, cymbal-riding jazz-funk. A comes-and-goes horn motif and a deep rhythm section fuel sax and trumpet solos before a fiery percussive battle between Alberto Naranjo on drums and Freddy Roldán on congas. Heavy stuff – all it’s missing is the fire flute.
The title track, “The Message”, is a psych funk-rock workout with punchy horns. Ludovic, guitar, and El Gerry, knackered voice, both freely throw out clipped waves. “We want the revolution. We’re looking for peace, love and solution”; a call to flower-carrying arms and freedom for all; a charming hippy hit musical meets Funkadelic-lite frisk.
“Johnny’s Bag” is a modal, spiritual big band moment. Tyner and Pearl and Dean. El Gerry on an acoustic piano is sometimes overpowered by a wonderful all-star Venezuelan horn section including Benjamin Brea on alto, Victor Cuica on tenor, Rodrigo Barboza on trombone, and Luis Arias on trumpet; sometimes he’s empathetically comping to allow the players to breathe solo warmth upon our frazzled souls; and sometimes he’s soloing himself, with patience and felt wisdom.
Vinicio Ludovic’s wide-collared, Latin-accented, easy-listening voice smoothly opens “What Is A Man” before El Gerry, much less smooth, barks with urgency encouraging us to “stop playing THAT game”. The band then goes on a funky big band, 70’s primetime Saturday Night TV walkabout before returning to Ludovic’s final take on modern masculinity and responsibility.
The album contentedly closes with a twinking, lightly grooving early 70s soul-jazz fusion. Naranjo’s drums display his signature slightly-rushing-it energy as Mickel Berti on bass and El Gerry on organ genially bounce off him and each other.
“The Message” is very much of its time. It’s stepping from the ’60s into the ’70s. It still has that 60’s psych hippyness but is looking towards a lush CTI horizon. Kinda like a charming, Venezuelan The Stark Reality but not really. It’s on a journey, in motion, looking to learn, explore and grow. It’s El Gerry as el maestro y el Estudiante; the way he’s always been and continues to be to this day. The “eternal Venezuelan jazz hippie that never stops reinventing himself” as Caracas Chronicles’ Ramsés Ulises Siverio lovingly referred to him.