Modern jazz inspired by classicalism.

Ryan Keberle and Frank Woeste – Reverso–Suite Ravel [TrackList follows] – Phono Art/Alternate Side, Ref Phonoart 001, 53:40 [2/9/18] ****:

(Ryan Keberle – trombone, co-producer; Frank Woeste – piano, co-producer; Vincent Courtois – cello; Jeff Ballard – drums)

Classical music and jazz have become intertwined over the decades, from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to Miles Davis’ 1960 LP Sketches of Spain (the opening piece is based on Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez), as well as the Modern Jazz Quartet’s 1973 record Blues on Bach and many more examples. Trombonist Ryan Keberle and pianist Frank Woeste’s 53-minute Reverso – Suite Ravel is easily this year’s best classical/jazz hybrid project. The 11 tracks are primarily inspired by Ravel’s six-part solo piano suite “Le tombeau de Couperin,” written between 1914 and 1917. Keberle and Woeste do not recreate Ravel’s suite, rather they utilize the Baroque-inspired material as a starting place for their own compositions, six composed by Woeste, three by Keberle and two listed as collectively improvised. The music hints at Ravel and sometimes suggests Ravel’s underlying parameters. The CD liner notes reveal Ravel was no stranger to jazz. During a 1928 US tour, Ravel stated, “You Americans take jazz too lightly. You seem to see it as a music of little value, vulgar and ephemeral. In my point of view, it is jazz that will give rise to the national music of the United States.”

Keberle and Woeste bring varied backgrounds to this project. Keberle has performed with David Bowie, Maria Schneider, Wynton Marsalis and Sufjan Stevens; and Woeste has performed with Dave Douglas (see 2016’s Dada People) and has several solo releases. Woeste and Keberle met in 2015 while recording with Douglas. Alongside Keberle and Woeste are French jazz cellist Vincent Courtois, who has a long list of albums as leader; and drummer Jeff Ballard, who now calls France home. Ballard has played with Chick Corea and Kurt Rosenwinkel and is currently in the Brad Mehldau Trio. Reverso is truly a Franco-American collaboration which bridges the Atlantic gap with wonderful results.

Woeste’s seven-minute opener “Ostinato (Prélude)” sets the tone with a mix of animated themes, elongated trombone and piano lines and shifting rhythmic elements. A circular motif provides grounding for soloing and improvisational interplay. Woeste’s “Luminism”—the title is based on an American painting style of the mid to late 1800s exemplified by effects of light in landscapes—is a bright, upbeat piece with interesting interchanges between trombone, piano, cello and drums. “Luminism” has less of a chamber jazz approach and more of a modern jazz methodology, where the cello often recalls early Jean-Luc Ponty before Ponty discovered fusion music. Woeste’s “Alangui (Forlane)” has a different and slower temperament. The word alangui translates from the French as ‘languid’ and forlane is a type of Italian folk dance. Although the forlane is known as a fast dance, “Alangui (Forlane)” is a contemplative composition with a calm cadence readymade for close dancing. Woeste’s “Dialogue” is a dynamic instrumental narrative which pairs Woeste with Courtois in a sweeping piano/cello conversation which deftly blends classical and jazz. “Dialogue” has beautiful instances, slices of dissonance and brief moments which evoke Bernard Herrmann. Woeste’s “Sortilege (Menuet)” is numinous. The first part of the title refers to foretelling the future from a card or other item drawn at random from a collection; the second part denotes a social dance of French origin for two people. The vibrant “Sortilege (Menuet)” begins unhurriedly and eventually cascades into an inventive and forward-thinking piece accentuated by Ballard’s diverse percussive groove and Courtois’ uninhibited cello. Woeste’s “Clair Obscur” closes the CD. Clair obscur is the French translation of describing chiaroscuro, which are strong contrasts between light and dark as used in painting, photography and cinematography. “Clair Obscur” is a sturdy track with forceful trombone, mostly sweet cello and divergent rhythmic characteristics.

Keberle contributes the eight-minute “All Ears (Fugue).” The somber melody which initiates “All Ears” has a memorializing effect. Fugues typically have a contrapuntal technique for two or more instruments constructed on a musical theme which is repeated at different points. The quartet maintains a fugue aspect but also supplies jazz touches which move beyond fugue limitations. The cello furnishes an ambient atmosphere via arco while Woeste’s piano tends toward a supportive role. Ballard imparts a steady rhythmic persistence. Keberle takes most of the solo space but is slightly restrained so he never appears to be too loose. Then there is Keberle’s balladic “Mother/Nature (Rigaudon).” A rigaudon is a French baroque dance with a lively musical meter. “Mother/Nature (Rigaudon)” has a medium-to-slow pace which doesn’t quite have a dance cadence but the tune does have a notably expansive slant. The tune’s emotional extension is fronted by Courtois’s refined arco cello; Woeste’s dispersed piano notes; and Keberle’s low-toned trombone. Keberle’s last composition is “Ancient Theory (Toccata),” the final movement of the album’s suite. The arrangement flits between 7/4 and 6/4 segments. The five-minute “Ancient Theory (Toccata)” unites the quartet’s classical and jazz intentions in a merging of the two influences. The CD also has two short group improvisations which act as interludes between other pieces. They work as separate tracks although they seem incomplete if not heard in the context of the larger musical framework.

TrackList:
Ostinato (Prélude)
Luminism
Impromptu I
All Ears (Fugue)
Alangui (Forlane)
Dialogue
Mother Nature (Rigaudon)
Impromptu II
Sortilege (Menuet)
Ancient Theory (Toccata)
Clair Obscur

—Doug Simpson