Jul 4 2017
Been seeing a lot of new albums cross my path labeled as protest music. It’s not surprising. Expected, even. There has been a mass upheaval in American society, and now a large segment of the population finds itself represented by a petulant sociopath who undermines the goals and values America aspires to achieve. A natural reaction is to say That’s not me. That’s not us. Artists, who have a talent at manifesting those ineffable thoughts and emotions that reside in us all, have been stepping up to capture the fear and uncertainty and transform it into a tool for revolt. This is happening now and it has all happened before.
Unfortunately, much of what I’ve been hearing hasn’t deviated much from what has come before from each of these artists. I’m not suggesting that there should be a sea change between a musician’s protest album and their prior catalog. But it should also be more than simply choosing song titles that incorporate the themes of revolution. There’s gotta be an urgency to the music, something that keys in on the tension that hangs over us each and every day our country’s dumpster fire continues to rage. Things are different now. It’s all changed. And if those changes aren’t reflected in the music, the disconnect between the music and the state of society will be as dramatic as the disconnect between music and listener.
Trombonist Ryan Keberle tapped into that tension. It becomes clear within the first few frames of his new album Find The Common, Shine A Light. He’s joined by the same Catharsis ensemble as his recent, previous work. It would be a pretty easy blindfold test for a listener familiar with the trombonist’s past recordings. The sharp lyricism is front and present. The math is the same with Keberle’s equation of old-school tunefulness and new-school architecture. But something is different. Hints emerge in the rawer emotion revealed by vocalist Camila Meza on the opening track “Become the Water,” and then again when the ensemble doubles-down on “Al Otro Lado del Rio” and matches her evocative tone. “Ancient Theory” is when Keberle and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez and bassist Jorge Roeder get right in your face, and that aggression puts all of those previous hints and allusions in their proper context… this is Keberle saying enough.
It’s still a Kerberle & Catharsis recording. I could’ve written this up and not mentioned politics or protest, and fans of Keberle’s past recordings would happily scoop up his newest. The lyrics from The Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” and a rendition of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” don’t force a context upon the listener anymore than do the liner notes. But the surging intensity of “Mindfulness” and the uninhibited roars of “Strength” and the wearied soul of “I Am a Stranger” resonate with a force that could overcome the most willful obliviousness and propel the most willing rebellion, and nothing about the tenor or tone is reflective of anything that’s come before. It’s not always obvious, but it is ever-present.
These fucking days, damn, I wake up in the middle of the night and there’s this fear waiting for me, leaving me wondering what the hell is going to happen next and if we’re heading to a point in our society that there’s no coming back from. There are times when the chasm between a mundane nine-to-five day and hyper-aware precarious state is too much for my heart to contain. I get angry and afraid. Don’t call something protest music if all that stuff doesn’t bleed from every note. With Find The Common, Shine A Light, I have no reservations about assuming that Ryan Keberle & Catharsis have each been up in the middle of the night wondering what the fuck is going on and how do we get out of it.
Your album personnel: Ryan Keberle (trombone, bass trombone, Fender Rhodes, melodica, vocals), Camila Meza (vocals, guitar, effects), Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Jorge Roeder (acoustic & electric basses, effects) and Eric Doob (drums).
Released on Greenleaf Music.
Listen to more of the album on the label’s Bandcamp page.
Music from NYC.