Keberle & Catharsis Soar in St. Louis

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Guitarist Camila Meza (left), bassist Matt Clohesy, trombonist Ryan Keberle, drummer Eric Doob and saxophonist John Ellis perform at The Dark Room in St. Louis on Jan. 28.

(Photo: Terry Perkins)

When trombonist Ryan Keberle formed Catharsis, the piano-less group he’s recorded and toured with since 2012, he posted a YouTube video in which he explained his reasons for forming the group: “I’m looking to have a band that allows me to play music that connects with an audience—hopefully an audience beyond die-hard jazz fans. I want to connect with our listeners on an emotional level, and I’m looking to have a band that really has that ‘working band’ sound.”

Keberle and Catharsis certainly met those goals during a performance at The Dark Room in St. Louis on Jan. 28. The lengthy, three-set concert featured an eclectic mix of music that connected strongly with the audience. The program featured material from all the Catharsis albums, including several Keberle originals as well as compositions by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Ivan Lins, Billy Strayhorn and Art Farmer.

Backed by vocalist/guitarist Camila Meza, drummer Eric Doob, saxophonist John Ellis and bassist Matt Clohesy (the latter two musicians subbing for trumpeter Michael Rodriquez and bassist Jorge Roeder, respectively), Keberle kicked off the evening with “Big Kick Blues,” an energetic, loose-limbed romp that was the first cut on Catharsis’ 2013 album, Music Is Emotion (Alternate Side).

The remainder of the opening set reflected Keberle’s affinity for South American music, particularly the work of Argentinian bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo and Brazilian musical legend Lins. “I Thought I Knew (For Pedro Giraudo)” from Catharsis’ 2016 disc, Azul Infinito (Greenleaf), built slowly, starting with Meza’s lovely vocals interpreting the lyrics of poet Mantsa Miro. Keberle and Ellis added rhythmic coloration before Clohesy and Doob power-shifted the tune into a higher gear.

Two songs from the latest Catharsis album, Find The Common, Shine A Light (Greenleaf), reinforced the Latin connection. “Al Otro Lado Del Rio,” featuring lyrics by Uruguayan singer/songwriter Jorge Drexler, was a showcase for Meza’s soaring vocals. “Become The Water,” with powerful lyrics by Miro convincingly delivered by Meza, featured Keberle moving from trombone to piano as Ellis took the spotlight with a scorching soprano sax solo.

The set ended with a lovely rendition of Lins’ “Madalena,” written in tribute to the late Brazilian vocalist Elis Regina. The Lins connection continued at the beginning of the second set with Keberle’s tribute to Lins, “Quintessence.”

Keberle, who topped the category Rising Star–Trombone in the 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll, then led the band through his up-tempo composition “Organic Rodeo,” from his 2007 album, Double Quartet (Alternate Side).

The band continued the tribute theme by playing Strayhorn’s “Blues in Orbit,” featuring a great drum introduction by Doob, slinky bass lines from Clohesy and dynamic solos by Meza on vocals and guitar, Keberle on trombone and Ellis on tenor sax. “Ancient Theory,” Keberle’s tribute to Ornette Coleman, closed out the second set.

The final set focused on what Keberle called the “protest theme” of the music of Find The Common, Shine A Light. The set opened with a fine rendition of The Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill” that paired Meza’s lovely vocals with finely honed unison lines on trombone and sax.

Next up was a version of “I’m A Stranger” by the Brooklyn-based gospel-rock group Welcome Wagon, with Ellis contributing on soprano sax and Keberle moving to piano. Keberle’s keyboard work segued smoothly into a version of Dylan’s protest anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which stuck close to the song’s original framework through the first couple verses before upping the energy level as Doob, Ellis and Keberle (back on trombone) joined in.

The evening ended with Keberle and the band turning the page back to late 1950s with a swinging version of Farmer’s “Blue Port,” which was composed by the trumpeter and recorded by Farmer and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s band.

“It’s great to be able to tour with this caliber of musicianship in the band, especially when you have John and Matt to fill in,” Keberle said during a short interview after the performance. “With this level of musicianship, we can really mix it up and play a lot of different styles. Playing ‘Blue Port’ along with The Beatles and Dylan really injects new life into everything we play.”

Keberle and Catharsis will perform at the Black Dolphin in Kansas City on Jan. 31 and at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point’s Michelsen Hall on Feb. 2.

For more info on Keberle, visit his website. DB



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