'Heavy Dreaming' featuring the Ryan Keberle Double Quartet Ryan Keberle - Trombone Frank Kimbrough - Piano Matt Brewer - Bass Eric Doob - Drums Mike Rodriguez - Trumpet John Clark - French Horn Marshall Gilkes - Trombone Marcus Rojas - Tuba Engineer - Mike Marciano Recorded, Mixed and Mastered at Systems Two - 9/24/09-10/31/09 Artwork and CD Design - Madeline Sturm Liner Notes by Darcy James Argue When I sat down with Ryan to talk to about this record, I could not resist asking him about "the trombone problem" - i.e., the instrument's lamentable underrepresentation in jazz, dating from pretty much the end of the big band era. I know many serious jazz musicians and fans who don't own a single trombonist-led album - not even stone classics like The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson or Grachan Moncur's Evolution. Trombonists themselves are acutely aware of this, even legends like Bob Brookmeyer: "Sax players got all the girls because they were seated in the front row. Trumpeters got all the money because they were driving the band from the back row. Trombones sit in the middle and develop an interior life." (Brookmeyer, I should point out, ditched the slide instrument in favor of the valve trombone early on.) But the trombone problem is about more than just lousy PR - there are fearsome technical obstacles to playing fluently in a contemporary jazz language on the trombone. Which certainly didn't stop Ryan from trying: "I was one of those guys who didn't listen to trombone records for a long time. For many years I was transcribing all saxophones and trumpets, then I got into pianists like Brad Mehldau and guitarists like Kurt Rosenwinkel... but really, you can't play that stuff on trombone. You can play some of it, sure, but ultimately it's going to sound like an approximation, rather than something that really stands on it's own." However, at the ripe age of 29, Ryan has finally made his peace with his horn: "I've had a realization -I'm glad I play the trombone. I feel very much in touch with it. I've stopped trying to play like a saxophone or a piano. Now, I'm listening to myself more. What I'm playing is what I'd be singing." The results of this shift in approach are evident in his dark, unburnished tone, the seamless flow of his phrasing, the architectural curve of his solos, his magnetic sense of groove, and most of all in his commitment to melody. It's not just his choice of instrument that separates him from the throngs of young Mehldau or Rosenwinkel wannabes - it's his ability to distill a broad range of influences (among others: Lawrence Brown, J.J. Johnson, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, George Lewis, Ben Allison) into a focused, unaffected voice that have made him a key constituent in so many New York bands - including my own group, Secret Society. For Heavy Dreaming, his second release as a leader, Keberle has assembled an impressive cohort of like-minded players, veterans and youngbloods alike. Ryan had long admired pianist Frank Kimbrough's playing, but since joining him as a regular in the Maria Schneider Orchestra, his appreciation has only deepened: "Frank brings something completely soulful and authentic. You can feel it, he means exactly what he's playing. He's able to reach a listener in an amazingly direct way, which is hard for a lot of pianists." Ryan first encountered bassist Matt Brewer when they were both students in the inaugural year of Juilliard's Jazz Studies program - before Matt left school to join Greg Osby's band. "I have an affinity for people who have amazing technique but can also use it in a really melodic way," says Keberle. "Matt is the epitome of that." At 25 years old, drummer Eric Doob is the youngest player on the record. Since graduating from Berklee, he's been active in New York's jazz and Latin scenes, including an ongoing stint with Paquito D'Rivera. As Ryan explains: "Eric has that authentic jazz sensibility, which this record needs, but his deep Latin jazz background brings an additional rhythmic element to the music." Ryan is no stranger to equatorial rhythms - he was recently voted Best Latin Jazz Trombonist by the readers of The Latin Jazz Corner. (Not bad for a kid from Spokane, Washington.) It's the Double Quartet's other quartet, though, that gives this record it's distinctive palette: Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), John Clark (horn), Marshall Gilkes (trombone), and Marcus Rojas (tuba). This combination could suggest anything from a New Orleans brass band to a saxophone-less Birth of the Cool to Lester Bowie's avant-party ensemble Brass Fantasy - but what Keberle and co. Have crafted is not easily pigeonholed. This is in large part due to the way Ryan's approached writing for these specific musicians: "Mike and I hear things similarly, so when I'm writing I'm always thinking of him - he's got this incredible low register sound. John Clark is legendary, of course, but I had no idea the depth of musical history he was going to bring. Technically speaking, there's no one who can play what Marshall plays on the trombone - I really push the envelope on his parts, because I know he'll make it sound easy. Marcus, I knew through some mutual friends in the Broadway scene, but then I heard him play with Dave Douglas and I was just blown away by his musicality." The music on Heavy Dreaming flows naturally from the uplifting triadic melodies and serpentine harmonic motion of the opener, "If You Want," into the off-kilter groove of "One Thought at a Time," whose pulsing staccato quarter notes seem to bridge the gap between Basie guitarist Freddie Green and 1970's piano pop. The haunting chorale that begins the title track literally came to Ryan in a dream: "I rarely remember dreams of any kind, but I woke up one night about a year and a half ago and I remembered this melody." The piece grows into an elegantly constructed solo setting for Mike Rodriguez, which alternates three bars of 3/4 with a bar of 2/4. A repeated piano chord sets up the metric modulation that introduces Part II. Ryan's initial solo statement here is so tuneful that it sounds composed. (It's not.) Originally a feature for vocalist Al Hibbler, "I Like The Sunrise" is from Duke Ellington's 1947 Liberian Suite, a commission celebrating that nation's centennial. Ryan has written a new intro and reharmonized the solo section, but delivers a faithful rendering of the theme itself. "The Slope of a Blues" is an Ellington-inspired original: "Duke has these amazing blues that are so disconnected from an actual blues," says Keberle. The opening is full of elusive displacements and rhythmic sleight-of-hand, but the soloists - Brewer, Gilkes, and Rojas - navigate the harmonically deceptive changes with gruff authority. Like many jazz musicians, Ryan is a cat lover, and "Early Mourning" is a sweet ballad composed in loving memory of a dearly departed feline. George Gershwin's last song, "Our Love Is Here To Stay," is also among his best-loved, having been performed and recorded countless times since it's initial appearance in The Goldwyn Follies (1938). That's part of the appeal for Keberle - working with such well-known source material allows him greater liberty as an arranger. "Plus," he adds, "it's just been one of my favorite songs for 15-20 years." "Coolant" is based on a supple-but-irregular 2+2+2+3 undercurrent that has a certain affinity with the music Keberle performs in bassist-composer Pedro Giraudo's ensemble. The record closes with "Mother Nature's Son," Paul McCartney's folk hymn from The White Album; the original's otherwise stripped-down instrumentation improbably includes a brass choir, making it an irresistible song choice here. A stark trombone-and-bass duet leads into a gospelized treatment of the tune, ultimately drawing back down into a simple, unornamented coda. Listening to Heavy Dreaming, it's easy to forget all about the trombone problem. The music is so sensitively played, so harmonically and rhythmically intricate, so melodically engaging, it would feel trivial to dwell on the grotty mechanics of individual instruments. This is a beautiful collection of music, full stop. Problem? What problem?