During the last six or seven years, when New York trombonist Ryan Keberle has visited Ottawa, you might have needed a program to pick him out of the crowd on stage. If you checked the fine print or heard Maria Schneider or Darcy James Argue announce, you did find out that it was Keberle making shining contributions to help bring their celebrated and even envelope-pushing music to life.
But Keberle, who is 35, has also been making some wonderful music under his own name, including Azul Infinito, which was released earlier this month. The third disc from the trombonist and his unique five-piece group Catharsis, the album is filled with entrancing and exceptionally well-crafted tracks that expansively convey a wide range of emotions, as per the band’s name.
As per the album’s name, the disc is a heady exploration of South American musical inspirations. For years, Keberle has felt the call of music from that part of the world. Schneider’s own fascinations with the rhythms, forms and sounds from not just Brazil but also Argentina and Peru must have rubbed off. So have Keberle’s experiences with Argentine composer Pedro Giraudo and Colombian songwriter Sebastian Cruz, to name just two of South American musicians who receive shout-outs on Azul Infinito, via dedicated originals by Keberle and covers of their own compositions. And then there’s the fact that two of Keberle’s collaborators in Catharsis, bassist Jorge Roeder and vocalist Camila Meza, are from Peru and Chile respectively.
which hooks listeners in with its prolonged, pulsating opening and then reels them in with the rich grooving of Roeder and drummer Eric Doob. Meza stirringly delivers lyrics by Manca Miro before vigorous tandem blowing by Keberle and Rodriguez reinforces the layered feeling of the track.
Canción Mandala, a piece by Colombian songwriter Cruz is a change of pace and language, with Meza soaring while singing in Spanish over the piece’s folkloric groove before Keberle and Rodriguez contribute potent solos.
She Sleeps Alone, Keberle’s piece dedicated to Cruz, is slower, forlorn and exotic, coloured by Keberle’s reedy melodica. The tune blossoms during another passage of open improvising during which Rodriguez and Keberle are in the foreground.
Mr. Azul (for Samuel Torres) is an upbeat, swaggering song that features one of Roeder’s commanding solos and a conversational exchange by Keberle and Rodriguez.
I find myself continually going back to the joyful piece Quintessence (for Ivan Lins). For one thing, I’ve been a Lins fan since forever and the catchy mid-section of this piece bears the Brazilian great’s stamp. As well, the music feels positively elated when the group kicks into some charged swinging. I could also see an audience losing it when Keberle’s group took this piece’s closing vamp, with its collective improvising, to another level.
Giraudo’s La Ley Primera receives a stately reading, with Meza getting inside its sinuous melody. Eternity Of An Instant (For Emilio Solla) begins with an arresting, austere call for attention before providing the disc with some of its more plaintive moments, despite the absence of lyrics.
Closing the disc is an earthy, rhythmically captivating version of Lins’ early Brazilian pop hit Madalena. Meza takes the disc out by singing in Portuguese and scatting and she’s as effervescent as Elis Regina was with her signature versions of the song in the 1970s, but different.
The play-by-play above shouldn’t obscure you from appreciating the disc’s larger attractions, which for me have to do with the exceptional connection between its musicians, both scripted and spontaneous. Regarding the former, Keberle has used his arranging savvy to maximize the variety of colours and densities that he can extract from his group’s unique instrumentation. (Who needs chordal instruments when horns, voice and bass blend so well and weave such interesting counterpoint?) Meanwhile, there’s a wonderful feeling of common purpose as the musicians nimbly plunge into the unknown.
It easy enough to single out the great playing of individuals — Roeder ensures that the music feels like it’s dancing from the ground up, and the purity of Rodriguez’s trumpet and his lyricism throughout casts a special spell — but Keberle and his whole crew are responsible for a singular sound, greater than the sum of its parts.
As I write this, Keberle and Catharsis are in Paris, finishing a four-country, four-gig run in Europe. Some dates in the U.S. follow, this month and next. I would love it if some Canadian festivals, and most of all, the Ottawa festival, would be hip enough to plug the remaining vacancies in their summer schedules with Keberle and Catharsis. They’re putting out music and a message that need to be heard and experienced.