BRATTLEBORO -- Percussionist, ethnomusicologist and teacher are job titles Julian Gerstin has had for a long time.
But this weekend, he gets to try on a new one that he’s still getting used to -- composer.
On Saturday, Gerstin and the ensemble he’s assembled called the Look Out Brass Band will present a program of his original music based on the rhythms of West Africa and the Caribbean at the Vermont Jazz Center in the Cotton Mill at 8 p.m.
"For this concert, I’ve been saying ‘Julian Gerstin, composer.’ That feels weird. There’s a certain bit of hubris," said Gerstin, who is well known in the area as a percussionist with Afrobeat band Alafia, the Latin dance band De Lomas y Sones, Cuban folkloric troupe Iroko Nuevo and the eclectic Middle Eastern-Caribbean-jazz As Yet Quintet, and as a teacher at the Vermont Jazz Center and Keene State College.
In realizing a dream with this concert, Gerstin has composed "The Ghana Suite," based on traditions of Ghana and "The Martinique Suite," which explores rhythms and melodies of this small French Caribbean island where he lived and studied for two years.
The compositions will be performed by the Look Out Brass Band, an ensemble he assembled modeled on old-style New Orleans jazz marching bands.
"When I was playing in Pete Simoneaux’s band (the Buzzards Brass Band), I fell in love with the percussion and brass sound," said Gerstin. "It’s brassy, it’s big and loud. That’s why people loved it. It was the biggest, brassiest sound people can get. ... It is a dramatic sound."
"The Ghana Suite" features six horns -- tuba, trombone, two saxes, two trumpets -- plus six percussionists on Ghanaian instruments. "The Martinique Suite" combines with the six horns again with Gerstin on the tanbou drum -- a unique instrument that he sits on and plays with both hands and feet.
The ensemble features Michael Zsoldos (sax, flute, horn arrangements) of Eugene Uman’s Convergence Project, Brian Bender, trombone, Jon Weeks (saxophones) of Viva Quetzal and Alafia, Geoffrey Cunningham and Dave Bilodeau on trumpet and Kevin Smith (tuba) of Primate Fiasco fame.
The West African percussion section is led by Faith Conant, director of the Five Colleges West African and Dance Ensemble. Conant has worked with the Ewe (Ay-way) people of Ghana and Togo music for more than 20 years, lived in an Ewe community in Togo for two years, and is president of the Renaissance Adzogbo Society, a dance troupe based in Lome, Togo.
Also joining the group will be Rafi Singer, another long-time student of Ewe music and a member of Boston’s Agbekor Society, as well as other members of Conant’s Five Colleges ensemble. "The Martinique Suite" also features Dave Noonan, the drummer who anchors Alafia, Gaslight Tinkers and several area reggae bands.
The group met as an ensemble for the first time on May 19, and the results were inspiring.
"Rehearsal was serious, focused, but, at least for me, really fun," wrote Conant in an e-mail to the Reformer. "We could feel Julian’s faith in the two sections (horn and percussion) as we learned to work as a group for the first time, and that was great. ... Polyrhythmic music is difficult to play, but not to listen to. I think the concerts will be powerful and enjoyable."
Perhaps the group took inspiration from one of the Ghanaian tunes it played. Ewe music is based on speech, and one of the Ewe drum dialogues the group plays replicates the words "E no ve, bo mi na ho," which translates "It is difficult, but we will do it."
That, if anything, was the spirit of the May 19 session, in which the Look Out Brass Band brought Gerstin’s music to life.
"I got to hear the melodies and sounds that so far I’ve only heard in my head emerging in real life. There they go," wrote Gerstin in an e-mail. "In three short hours we negotiated 10 charts for the first time, blasting our way past the inevitable hitches."
And blasting their way closer to making a dream come true for Gerstin.
"I’ve always wanted to do jazz based on these styles," he said. "I’ve had this vision for many years. Can I actually make it happen?"
Tickets are $10, $7 for students and seniors. For reservations and information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Look Out Brass Band will also present this program on Friday at 8 p.m., at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.