Let’s just call Azul Infinito an investment in rhythm. Having been impressed by a wealth of South American music since his 1999 arrival in NYC, Ryan Keberle employs a variety of specific grooves on Catharsis’ fetching third album. Beats from Colombia, Brazilian pop, spins on Argentinian chacarera – the gifted trombonist played with an array of contemporaries who brought these intriguing options to the table, and along the way they’ve become part of his vocabulary, too. Here, with a five-piece group that includes singer Camila Meza, he celebrates the particulars of each while finding ways to filter them through his own voice.
It’s a canny band, or maybe I should say Keberle’s arrangements are shrewd. Because of the crosshatched rhythm patterns and counterpoint gambits, it often feels like this is a larger ensemble, an octet, say, hustling from section to section of a track, bringing new perspectives every few minutes. Mike Rodriguez’s trumpet has all sorts of ways of buddying up to the leader’s bone. Think of the way that Olu Dara and Henry Threadgill created sparks in the saxophonist’s celebrated Sextett.
Meza’s job is to not only effect the emotions of the lyrics, but sweeten the improvised action as she does so. Elaborate, but airy. On the lead track, after the band creates a swirl of sound that tilts toward Steve Reich, Meza trills poet Manca Miro’s paean to becoming untethered from terra firma and Catharsis really takes off. Like an unholy alliance of Irene Aebi with Steve Lacy’s Sextet and Jen Shyu with Five Elements, the vocals enhance the music’s meaning as well as giving the action a foreground focus
Bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Eric Doob are key to this well-designed bustle. Locked tight, they move as one, challenging each other even as their various tacks prove complimentary. There’s some fierce interaction on “Madelena” and mid-way through Kerberle’s nod to Ivan Lins they drop some wonderfully buoyant swing. These may be art songs, but they’re art songs that invariably yield to next-level propulsion.