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Merging jazz and classical music isn’t exactly a new notion. But seldom has the concept been realized with more sophistication than on The Melodic Line, the second studio recording by the Reverso team of trombonist Ryan Keberle and pianist Frank Woeste, who are joined here by cellist Vincent Courtois.
Keberle is American, while Woeste and Courtois are French. But the three are clearly comfortable negotiating divides, be they cultural or musical, that might trip up lesser collaborators. Moreover, the Reverso brain trust made a canny decision between the combo’s debut, Suite Ravel, and their sophomore effort by leaving drums out of the equation. This less-is-more approach results in an unconventional chamber trio that effectively splits the difference between jazz and classical. Another plus: Unlike Suite Ravel, which drew for inspiration upon composer Maurice Ravel, The Melodic Line uses as its jumping-off point Les Six, an early 20th-century French collective responsible for a canon much less familiar to listeners on this side of the pond.
The opener, “Blue Feather,” serves as something of a sonic invitation to the project as a whole. Courtois lays down a bold riff that’s shadowed by Woeste prior to the entry of Keberle, who delivers the main melody with smooth confidence. The combination makes for jaunty fun, as well as an indication that expectations should be set aside for the remainder of the album.
The variety of what follows is bracing. “Exemplar” gets dark thanks to a middle section in which Courtois flirts with atonality; “Up North” lays out lines that are enthrallingly rich and elegant; “Montparnasse” showcases Woeste’s impeccable sense of time; “Absinthe” intoxicates by way of a contrapuntal arrangement that’s downright danceable; and the concluding “Clara” finds Keberle reminding us how beautiful a trombone can sound when it’s being manipulated by a master. — Michael Roberts