In Spite of It All is the second album from Australian bassist and composer Brendan Keller-Tuberg. His most ambitious offering yet, In Spite of It All represents an effort to bridge the worlds of modern jazz with post-rock, indie- folk, the avant- garde, and more. It features a core ensemble of Australian improvisers: Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone), Ashley Ballat (trumpet), Wilbur Whitta (piano), and Lewis Pierre-Humbert (drums), joined by a host of American guests including Joel Tucker, Elena Escudero and Ana Nelson.
Originally from Canberra, Australia, Keller-Tuberg completed his bachelors’ degree in Australia before moving to the United States in 2018 for graduate study at the Jacobs School of Music. During this period, he performed with Walter Smith III, Emmet Cohen, Dayna Stephens, Greg Ward, John Raymond and June Lee. He also recorded on Amanda Gardier’s Flyover Country as well as Intertwined, the debut release from his own project Crossroads Quintet. His self-titled debut album was released in 2017. Writing for BMA Magazine, Geoff Page stated that “judg[ing] from this new, eponymous CD by young local bassist Brendan Keller-Tuberg, [the piano trio’s] possibilities are far from exhausted.” It would go on to be one of BMA’s top releases of 2017.
The bulk of In Spite of It All was written pre-pandemic in early 2020, for the purposes of a European tour scheduled for late March of that year. At the time, Keller-Tuberg was based in the US, but was all but forced to relocate to Canberra due to the oncoming pandemic – throwing his career plans, relationships and more into disarray. This circumstance can be felt at every level of the music, down to the recording process itself where a core Australian quintet was recorded in January 2021 and all additional instrumentation was overdubbed in living rooms and bedrooms around the world in the months following. This DIY approach to production was ultimately embraced, resulting in the implementation of field recordings and electro-acoustic manipulation across the record. It sets In Spite Of It All apart from other more ‘live’ jazz recordings, and places it amongst some of its other key influences, such as Talk Talk, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Bon Iver.
The album opens with the piano trio composition “Still Persisting.” Written in late 2020, the piece operates as an extended ‘life update’ on the state of the world, both personally and politically. Personally, it was written by Keller-Tuberg as a reminder to himself to continue being proactive in pursuing his dream of being an improvising musician and composer, even as personal circumstance and the pandemic closed door after door throughout 2020. More broadly, however, it acts as a call-to-arms for listeners to continue fighting to make the world a better place, even as one’s efforts seem increasingly futile. “When Tomorrow Comes” is a brief interlude which ruminates on the collective growth (and trauma) that will be faced when ‘normal life’ resumes.
The bulk of the album is contained within a six-movement suite, entitled “Towards a Greater Whole.” It is a programmatic, linear work, which tells the story of a nameless protagonist’s philosophical and emotional struggles in coming face-to- face with their individual insignificance; and eventually their deep satisfaction in dedicating themselves selflessly to their surrounding communities, and the collective wellbeing of those around them. In the face of numerous world crises, including (but not limited) to global warming, wealth inequality, equality and representation across races, gender identities, sexualities, and more, “Towards a Greater Whole” is a plea for radical empathy – seeing one’s self not as separate individual on an island from one’s community, but as an inextricable part of a larger collective, where the wellbeing of the group can be prioritized.
The album closes with “Letting Go,” a solo piano piece performed by Keller-Tuberg himself. Returning to his personal circumstance (as was explored on “Still Persisting”), “Letting Go” finds him contending with everything that happened during 2020-2021 – reflecting upon everything that went wrong, everything that was learned, and the personal growth that was experienced. It is intended to be an intimate, personal documentation of his ongoing process of accepting the journey thus far, and letting go of it as he continues forth into the future’s continued uncertainties.
In the end, despite the challenges presented in its making, In Spite of It All shows Keller-Tuberg’s full emergence as a composer and leader, with a compelling set of tunes that evokes the pain and joy felt by many musicians over the past year and a half. Its release on November 5, 2021 will be both cathartic and triumphant, in spite of it all.