Picks and Pans Review: Deep in the Shed
Following up his much-praised 1988 debut album, The Truth Is Spoken Here, jazz pianist Roberts has teamed with some confreres from the Wynton Marsalis band and a few heady young newcomers to produce this elegant, energetic album.
Containing six of his own blues-based compositions, the album ranges from the moody, 11-minute title track to the Monk-inspired "E. Dankworth," with Roberts paying particular attention to the nuances, phrasings and spirit of fundamental 12-bar blues.
Roberts first states strongly melodic thematic progressions, then extends them, using complex chord changes, harmonies and interludes that honor the form and feel of improvisation even when they are carefully scored. Displaying a substantial taste for the scholarly delights of modern jazz composition, Roberts wrote each number in a different key. What you hear behind the earthy blues and swing coloring is pure sophistication.
These are tunes that ripen with multiple listenings, and you'll want to go back to "Spiritual Awakening" for its hymnlike majesty and to "Nebuchadnezzar" for its Middle Eastern-derived exotic sound or to "The Governor" for its sweetly savage swing-time beat.
Featured sidemen include tenor sax players Herb Harris and Todd Williams, trumpeters Scotty Barnhard and E. Dankworth. bassist Chris Thomas and drummer Maurice Carnes; all but Williams arc making their recording debuts.
Marsalis gave Roberts his first big break when he asked him to replace Kenny Kirk-land in his band in 1985. Since then, Roberts has been touring and recording, continuing his studies "deep in the shed," to use the musicians' term for on-the-job training. He's a great endorsement for the earn-while-you-learn school of education. (Novus/RCA)