While the blues is a distinctly American creation, formed, fueled, and furthered by the African diaspora, the United States holds no ownership on blue-streaked sounds. They exist beyond our borders, and Azul Infinito
makes that case in artful fashion by simultaneously tapping into various South American musical forms and cultures, reshaping them, and highlighting the color scheme(s) endemic to each one. It's a strikingly original album that's influenced by the work of specific figures and set cultural norms, but shaped by the creative spirit of a true originaltrombonist Ryan Keberle.
Since arriving in New York in 1999, Keberle has made his mark in numerous contexts, working with cutting edge large groups like the Maria Schneider
Orchestra and Darcy James Argue
, unique small bands like Joe Fiedler
's Big Sackbut, and sophisticated pop geniuses like David Bowie
, David Byrne, and Sufjan Stevens. But that's not the whole story. If you dig a little deeper into his discography and history, a connection to many forward-thinking Latin American composers emerges. Over the years, Keberle has supported the musical visions of singular personalities like bassist Pedro Giraudo
, pianist Emilio Solla
, and percussionist Samuel Torres
. Each of those figures, in turn, has influenced Keberle and opened up new worlds of possibility in his dealings with rhythm, harmony, and melody. That's the setup for Azul Infinito
. It's a record built around tributes, with many different musical tributaries feeding into the music, and it may just be Keberle's most fully realized statement yet.
In hearing this music, several things immediately jump out. First, for those familiar with this group, there's the manner in which this band has evolved over the course of three albums. The musical kinship between Keberle, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez
, bassist Jorge Roeder
, and drummer Eric Doob
was obvious on the band's debutMusic Is Emotion
(Alternate Side Records, 2013)but their bonds have only grown stronger and more flexible over time. Add to that the entrancing vocal work of Camila Meza
, who came on as a special guest on Into The Zone
(Greenleaf Music, 2014) and exists as a full-fledged member of Catharsis here, and you have something very unique and special. Next, there's the skillful way(s) that these musicians seamlessly shift from tightly-woven sections to looser episodes of interplay. There's an elasticity at play in the band's concept, allowing for dialogue and give-and-take within or at the periphery of fixed frameworks. And lastly, there's the manner in which the uncommon grouping of trombone, trumpet, vocals, bass, and drums sounds utterly complete. You didn't mind the absence of a "harmony" instrument like piano or guitar on this band's previous albums, but now you don't even notice it.
It doesn't take more than a few seconds for Keberle and company to draw you in, as layered vocal and brass ostinatos create a hypnotic ripple current atop the shifting sounds of Roeder's bass on "I Thought I Knew (For Pedro Giraudo)." That introduction seamlessly segues into a propulsive ride that underscores Meza's delivery. It's the first of several pieces on the album to feature lyrics, further broadening the vision of this outfit, and it pays tribute to Giraudo by nodding to the Argentinian chacarera
. Then there's "Cancion Mandala," a Sebastian Cruz
composition that explores and expands on Colombian folkloric music; "Mr. Azul (for Samuel Torres)," influenced by the hip bullerengue
groove and featuring some engaging solo trading from Keberle and Rodriguez; and "She Sleeps Alone (For Sebastian Cruz)," which plays like a lament yet also speaks to the resolute spirit of oneness.
The second half of the album opens on an exuberant note with "Quintessence (for Ivan Lins)," but sorrowful tones enter the picture during a lyrics-enhanced take on Giraudo's "La Ley Primera." Then things come to a close with "Eternity Of An Instant (For Emilio Solla)," a through-composed vehicle that plays the ideas of development and persistence against one another, and Lins' "Madalena," a piece that highlights the strong communicative connections between Meza and Keberle. Both prove to be complex in certain respects, yet direct in others.
In his liner essay for this album, Keberle notes that this music "represents a broad scope of what South American music can be." That adoption of a vision built on potential, rather than purity, is what ultimately drives this music to great heights. In exploring different aspects of music and culture from South America without strictly adhering to any rigid dictates, Keberle has managed to create something that extends well beyond any style or school of thought.