Thursday, August 29, 2019

"The Hope I Hold": Ryan Keberle & Catharsis

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis The Hope I Hold Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1072

Ryan Keberle has been steadily earning a well-deserved reputation as a splendid trombonist. He has won the Downbeat’s rising star award for his work on his instrument and has contributed his talents on projects by popular mainstream artists like David Bowie and Alicia Keyes. He is a valued member of the brass section of the prestigious, Grammy winning Maria Schneider’s Orchestra and worked with jazz traditionalist Wynton Marsalis, Brazilian composer Ivan Lins and the forward-thinking composer/arranger Darcy James Argue to name a few. His work as an educator has included numerous improvisational trombone seminars in many prominent music schools and he has directed the jazz program at Hunter College since 2004.

Ryan Keberle 

Keberle’s most progressive and inspired work has been recorded since he started his group Catharsis in 2012. Keberle’s Catharsis has included, at various times, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, guitar/vocalist Camila Meza, bassist Jorge Roeder, multi-reedist Scott Robinson and drummer Eric Doob.

The word Catharsis means purification; the processing of releasing and therefore providing relief of strong or repressed emotions. Unfortunately, in today’s world, “strong or repressed emotions” often include a fair share of hatred and fear, but Keberle and Catharsis use their music as a vehicle to promote and accentuate the positive. Their music offers sensitivity and creativity, using music as a path to enlightenment. Their music has espoused the importance of love and hope even when faced with prevailing negative forces. Over several albums, the group has offered a positive mantra that promotes inclusion, represented by the band’s diverse ethnicity and celebrated by their ability to create such a strong cohesiveness, as witnessed by the  joy that is overwhelmingly apparent in their music.

On the latest recording The Hope I Hold, Keberle’s artistry is inherently bonded to his socially altruistic message. “The Hope I Hold Suite” is inspired by his admiration for Langston Hughes searing 1935 poem “America Will Be.”  I’ve re-read the full poem (you can read it here) and recognize that, despite a passage of over eighty years, the aspirations often committed to have still been stubbornly elusive to an  unconsciously large portion of our population.
Keberle’s message restlessly refuses to accept the inevitability of a failed dream. His hope, like a North Star, is a beacon that leads us to continue to strive for universal rights and equitable equality. Keberle admirably believes the realization of this dream can only be found through truth, love and inspired music. I'm with him on this.

The group is amazingly empathetic, melding their individual musical personalities into a unified sounding symphony. The first four songs are all part of a "The Hope I Hold" suite that honors the Hughes poem. Not just an exemplary trombonist, Keberle is an accomplished pianist who opens the set with an elegant tingling simulation of clanking chains on “Tangled in the Ancient Endless Chains.” He plays some airy Fender Rhodes as Reoder’s booming bass paces the rising melody and the music grows in intensity. Camila Meza’s haunting wordless voice finds a compatriot with Scott Robinson’s responsive tenor and Doob’s splashing cymbals and exploding toms. Meza’s voice is interpretative and moving. She beautifully vocalizes Hughes' verse, the fourth paragraph of his poem, and brilliantly adapts the lyrics to the music with only slight word substitutions to make it work for her. Robinson’s soaring tenor is uplifting and hopeful, Meza’s electric guitar solo follows, lending another color to this aural watercolor that offers promise.

Left to Right Jorge Roeder, Eric Doob, Camila Meza, Ryan Kebrle and Scott Robinson,
Earshot Jazz Festival ( photo credit unknown)
Keberle’s emotive trombone opens “Despite the Dream.” He and Meza’s guitar match notes and sounds before her plaintive wordless voice is joined with Robinson’s tenderly searching tenor in a three-instrument conversation. Meza’s voice adds lyrics, vocal backups are included by Keberle and Roeder, as the rhythm section of Doob and Roeder establish the swaying pace. Robinson’s tenor is a joy on the bridge and Keberle’s trombone is like a force of emotion and expressiveness, artful. The music retains an orchestration that is positive and inspiring.

“America Will Be,” the third song in the four-song suite, starts out with a dirge-like feel. Eventually the music elevates to a stirring apex with Keberle’s probing trombone, Robinson’s atmospheric tenor, Meza’s spidery guitar, Roeder’s booming bass and Doob’s militarily cadenced drums. The years together have tempered these musicians into a precise, empathetic and responsive ensemble. The composition has, at times, a solemn feeling, but hope and defiance is also present and Hughes’ words “O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath-America will be.”  Meza’s melodic voice singing the defining statement both codifies existing disappointment but also demands realization of the promised dream.

“Fooled and Pushed Apart” is a dynamic, fluid song that utilizes a driving rhythm section of Roeder and Doob, a responsive front line of Robinson and Keberle and a tantalizing, Flora Purim-like wordless performance by Meza. Keberle’s composition has a modern, Blue Note-era feel to it and it just bristles with precision, excitement and vibrancy. Keberle’s trombone has a liquid bellow to it and his intonation is flawless.  Robinson’s tenor artfully darts around Keberle’s trombone adding subtle and effective accompaniment that seem improvised on the spot. Upon multiple listens you find more and more things to like about this one.

“Campinas” features Keberle’s trombone accompanied by his overdubbed Rhodes. Jorge Roeder’s voice offers a wordless opening over his own electric bass lines and Doob’s cadenced drums, which seem to be the one constant in this song. Meza and Roeder weave their wordless voices expertly as Keberle adds his spacey Korg Minlogue accents and Meza’s guitar eventually adds another voice to the mix.

The second part of the album features three drum-less Catharsis trio songs. Keberle, Meza and Roeder take on a Latin vibe. The program includes “Para Volar” a buoyant Latin song sung and composed by Meza and accompanied by her guitar, Keberle’s trombone and Roeder’s bass. Meza’s voice always has a joyous sound to it as she sings the lyrics in Spanish and Keberle’s trombone takes on a warm, Latin feel.

The beautiful “Peering” is written by bassist Roeder and features Keberle’s trombone, Meza’s guitar and wordless voice and Roeder’s looping bass. Meza sings precisely in sync to her own guitar. Keberle compliments her emotively on trombone. The three musicians who have played together for the past seven years have developed an undeniable musical telepathy that can’t fail to impress. 

“Zamba de Lozano” is a folk-like composition by Manuel Jose Castillo and Gustavo Leguizamon has a slow, romantic flow to it with Meza’s guitar and voice, Roeder’s and Keberle’s accompanying vocals and Keberle’s trombone.

“Becoming the Water” is uplifting composition of hope by Keberle and Mansta Miro and reprises the song from previous Catharsis album Find the Common, Shine a Light but this time without Michael Rodriguez’s trumpet.

The finale is titled “Epilogue/Make America Again” is the final composition and a bit of a reprise of the previous song “America Will Be” restating the sentiments. The song features Meza’s electric guitar, Keberle’s electric piano and trombone, Roeder’s bass, Doob’s drums and Scott Robinson’s tenor. The music has the cadence of a march with the ensemble raising the sound and tension to a peak of excitement before allowing the music to calm and settle, with Meza’s tactile voice resubmitting the moving Hughes words at the coda to great effect.

Ryan Keberle continues to show his progression as a serious composer, a deft leader and a brilliant instrumentalist whose music is always passionate, moving and timely. Keberle and Catharsis have progressed their musical mission with The Hope I Hold, and hopefully their music and message will inspire listeners  who aspire to achieve a better world for all of us.

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