John Aulich’s first major project is time-anchored yet timeless, frightening yet essential. Suite 001 – “For Kazimierz” is inspired by the WWII stories of Aulich’s Polish grandfather, who immigrated to the U.K. and served in the British Army until 1948. It’s not easy listening, but it’s a gorgeous effort, suffused with an awful power and a dark allure. While triumph is implied in the story – the escape from the Holocaust, the time served with a sympathetic army, the Allied victory – no triumph is apparent in these sounds. Instead, Suite 001 is the sound of a man harrowed by his experiences, fighting every inch of the way, looking back at all that has been lost while stubbornly living and striving on. Yes, the “good guys” won, but they also continued to bear the brunt of seared images and secret sacrifices. Aulich’s tribute musters as much empathy as a grandson can have for a grandfather without having walked in his shoes. The resistance of any urge to sugarcoat the damage with major keys and soaring motifs is a credit to the project’s authenticity.
The bells of the prologue (revisited in the finale) are less a call to worship than a tolling for the dead. Sharp stereo mastering graces the opener, as watery noises inspire images of emaciated survivors crawling through mud or soldiers drowning in the trenches. Percussive shuffles – extended cymbal sounds, gong crashes – punctuate the proceedings like shrapnel.
“On Friendship” introduces the wide open spaces that dominate the album’s center. Dark piano is accompanied by flanging and muted drums; then a complete stop. Is this the death of a person, a dream, an ideal? Are these the memories of an oxygen-depleted mind? The mini-suites continue: start-stop, start-stop. On and on, one day blending into the next, one step following another. Sludge, perseverance, stubbornness, devotion. ”On Uncertainty” includes the lower registers of what may be a church organ, vestiges of faith continuing to echo darkly in the midst of despair. Mortar shells land in the background, while further back still, a synthesized string motif struggles to surface. Six notes are struck on the piano: not a call to arms, but a call to press on through the distortion of a ruptured eardrum. ”On Brief Respites” is Aulich’s demonstration of mercy, a little track that serves as a flicker of reason, a remembrance of character, a repudiation of destiny.
By the end of the finale, the listener has come to know Aulich’s grandfather through the triple filter of memory, voice and music. At first glance, these layers may seem to indicate distancing. Yet music is often able to cut through language and memory to produce something closer to the truth that can be communicated through language. The signal bell of “Finale” (perhaps a train station) indicates both arrival and departure; once the war is over, the war begins. This greater truth lies at the heart of a veteran’s spirit, and Aulich’s greatest gift may be the metaphorical capture of the unspoken. (Richard Allen)