Pianist Frank Woeste, trombonist Ryan Keberle & cellist Vincent Courtois, captured on a special night at Le Triton in Paris, ending a three-week 2020 tour — the very last gig before lockdown
Available from OutNote Records on November 19th, 2021
“Flush with ideas to engage the ears and evoke emotion.” — PopMatters
Debuting with Suite Ravel in 2018, Reverso established itself as a virtuosic, trans-oceanic chamber jazz ensemble premiering new compositions inspired by French classical composers. In support of the group’s 2019 sophomore release The Melodic Line (an homage to the 20th-century composers known as the Group of Six or Les Six), Reverso toured to over 10 cities on two continents in February and March of 2020. The music grew and deepened every night, culminating in a performance for the ages at Le Triton in Paris on March 13, 2021, recorded in high-definition audio and video by France Musique (the rough equivalent of NPR) for nationwide broadcast later that spring. After listening back, the members of this unique trio — pianist Frank Woeste, trombonist Ryan Keberle and cellist Vincent Courtois — agreed that what transpired that night was magical enough for a full-fledged album. The resulting Live puts Reverso’s melodic gifts, expansive sonorities, and undeniable chemistry on full display.
“We had toured all over but now we were coming home,” Courtois recalls of their night at Le Triton. “The venue is very close to my place, I had a lot of friends in the room, my sister was there. It was also special because it was our last concert before the pandemic — people were saying that tomorrow everything was shutting down, and we still couldn’t really believe it.”
Drawing on repertoire from The Melodic Line (five pieces by Woeste, four by Keberle), Reverso continues a century of mutual inspirations between two expansive and overlapping musical worlds, tracing the intersection of jazz and classical music. The sinuous blend of cello and trombone, not an everyday sound in the jazz world, is here a prominent focus, with Woeste’s poetic touch and rhythmic spark at the piano lending a veritable orchestra’s worth of tonal color and clarity.
There is a connection, Woeste notes, between his “Blue Feather” and Darius Milhaud’s 1917-19 solo piano cycle Saudades. “Milhaud spent time in Brazil,” says the pianist, “and I was so inspired by some of these pieces he wrote, which are named after neighborhoods in Rio. For ‘Blue Feather’ I extracted four notes of one of his melodies and changed all the rest.” Keberle, for his part, wrote “Major Jack” after delving into the music of Germain Tailleferre, the only woman of Les Six, an unheralded figure who composed everything from solo piano works to film scores over a long career. “On Suite Ravel,” the trombonist recalls, “there were ideas fairly directly derived from Ravel. But the things I’ve written for the group recently might have no literal connection to their original inspiration at all. Rather they try to channel the character of that music.”
Typically, Keberle and Woeste will compose material specifically for Reverso’s instrumentation, though Woeste’s contemplative “Clara” is a preexisting piece dedicated to his daughter — it appeared in duet form with trumpeter Eric Vloeimans to lead off Woeste’s 2020 outing Pocket Rhapsody II. (Woeste also included it on 2019’s Libretto Dialogues, Vol. 2, as a duo with tenorist Walter Smith III.) What made “Clara” fit was its strong sense of melody, a quality that permeates the world of Les Six. “That’s what attracted me to Les Six, a sense of song that is not far off from Broadway composers,” Woeste adds.
Other inspirations came into play for Keberle, including the pioneering jazz orchestra leader Maria Schneider on the aptly titled “Exemplar.” The tune is perhaps an implicit homage as well to the late Frank Kimbrough, Schneider’s pianist of many years and a musical and life mentor to so many in Keberle’s generation.
“This is my first live album,” Keberle observes, “and it’s so fulfilling that it documents such a special night for the three of us. On a tour like that, the music becomes much greater than one person and takes on a life of its own. We knew we were recording for radio but not for an album, so there wasn’t anything like the pressure of a ‘recording session,’ and we also had the confidence that comes with having played the music so much. So what we ended up capturing is that magical live element where nothing is edited or fixed or touched.”
Live is Reverso’s second offering on the Belgian OutNote label, which has released albums by Amir ElSaffar, Samuel Blaser, and others. The group is currently planning its next project with a focus on the art and aesthetic of Gabriel Fauré.