Friday, February 1, 2013

A Blues Suite

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Marcus Roberts, Deep in the Shed. Confession: Most jazz solos bore me, at least on record (live can be another matter). What I love in a great piece of jazz is usually the initial statement of the tune--after which I wait with varying degrees of interest and admiration while each player in turn shows off his improv chops, until the tune returns again. Call me a shallow pop fan, but I actually think my objection goes deeper than a craving for a nice, hummable melody. I like to hear a musical idea--whether it's dissonant and jagged or harmonious and sweet--developed, shaped, crafted. Jazz solos are a form of thinking out loud, and that's rarely as interesting to me.

This extraordinary six-song suite from 1990 is an exception, and I can't pinpoint why, exactly, except to note that Roberts' tunes are remarkably rich, blues-drenched, angular, moody pieces in themselves, and that all the players here--starting with Roberts' understated presence at the keys--seem attuned to the music's harmonic possibilities, to its dramatic shape. None of the solos here outlast their welcome or seem to be merely stretching out or showing off; instead they seem to be on a shared journey for pearls of musical truth, and even when they do ramble or digress or pull focus, it's as if it's done "in character" with the compositional tone of the piece.

I guess I could put it this way: Deep in the Shed feels like an alternately mournful and percolating seriocomedy, acted by an ensemble that knows its parts so well that I can barely tell when they're on- or off-book. I'd put it on the shelf next to best of Ellington or Monk, and above anything I've heard by Roberts' vaunted mentor, Wynton Marsalis, who's on hand to close the proceedings with an irresistible trumpet flurry named for his alias, "E. Dankworth."

Carey Fosse Wow! Yes, this is the best track off that killer album!

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