Ryan Keberle: Double Quartet (2007)
Whether one considers trombonist Ryan Keberle's group as either two quartets or simply a fully-functional octet, the gifts of this young improvisor are well evident on his debut CD, Double Quartet. The combination of a small but rich horn ensemble mixes well with a skilled and subtle rhythm section to produce thoughtful and expressive music.
The majority of the selections are Keberle's own compositions. The opening track, "Something Speaking, sets the bar high, creating inventive arrangements with austere melodic detail that pretty much characterize the disc as a whole. Keberle keeps the horn voicings tight and unified in tone and timbre, with a droll and intricate break following a solo that features unison lines veering off into highly syncopated and probing rhythmic stabs before returning to the head.
Such feats are carried out by musicians who possess both restraint and acumen in equal measure with correspondingly sharp focus and concentration. Pianist Adam Birnbaum delivers several fine performances, most notably on "Organic Rodeo" and "What Goes Around," a tune that typifies Keberle's sprawling, multi-themed approach to composition. Drummer Brad Wentworth plays well throughout, with the right balance of subtlety and intensity, that serves the music. Indeed, this music is full of drama, but the players keep such a tight reign on dynamics that it occasionally requires an attentive ear to access some of the music's secret corners.
When Keberle lends his touch to songs by other composers; he leaves his own conceptual imprinta distinct but evolving aesthetic. His highly original reworking of Lennon & McCartney's "Blackbird" has some fine improvisation, with a standout solo from trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, who latches on to Keberle's re-harmonization and soulfully navigates the new changes to very satisfying ends.
As a trombonist, Keberle's sound is assertive and assured, displaying sensitivity and fullness of tone, as in the ballad "When I'm Away," with an endearingly bratty wit and rancor. Wayne Shorter's "Children of the Night, which, in addition to featuring Jose Davila's excellent tuba solo, has an original arrangement that stands in very pleasing contrast to the classic 1961 Jazz Messengers recording. The sound of his arrangements bears the characteristics of his quirky and inquiring phrasing as a soloist.
The combination of two trombones, trumpet, two French horns and tuba allows plenty of opportunity for unexpected counterpoint and a fresh rhythmic edginess. Double Quartet indicates Keberle's flowering skills as a composer and arranger that should be fun to trace over the next decade or so. The idea of jazz as an interpretive art form is clearly not lost on Ryan Keberle, who has his own agenda and the skills and musicians with which to shrewdly execute it.
Track Listing: Something Speaking; What Goes Around; Blackbird; Children of the Night; When I'm Away; 29 Palms; Norwegian Wood; Wedding Music; Organic Rodeo.
Personnel: Ryan Keberle: trombone; Adam Birnbaum: piano; Matt Brewer: bass; Brad Wentworth: drums; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Chris Komer: french horn; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Jose Davila: tuba.
Record Label: Alternate Side Records