Picks and Pans Review: The Truth Is Spoken Here

updated 04/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Marcus Roberts

Two fine young jazz pianists serve notice with these albums that they can match chops with anyone. During the past decade Mulgrew Miller has paid his dues the old-fashioned way, as a journeyman musician on straight-ahead sessions. His three previous outings as a leader, though distinguished by dazzling technical virtuosity, were uneven and tentative. But on The Countdown (Landmark Records), Miller finds a relaxed, confident groove as he swings with a group of jazz mainstays. Drummer Tony Williams and bassist Ron Carter, who came to prominence during the '60s as Miles Davis sidemen, keep the session in high gear. Meanwhile Joe Henderson, a veteran tenor saxophonist with a delightfully quizzical sensibility and a razor-edge tone, offers a perfect foil for the melodious Miller with his elliptical flights of fancy. Playing four of his own compositions, along with original pieces from each of the other members of the quartet, Miller, 33, exhibits a refined touch at the keyboard that lends an air of courtly elegance to the proceedings.

Marcus Roberts is a jazz classicist who has undergone a high-profile apprenticeship in trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' band. Marsalis adds a touch of cool to The Truth Is Spoken Here (RCA-Novus), Roberts's debut album as a leader, while Elvin Jones, one of John Coltrane's favorite drummers, and Charlie Rouse, a saxophonist and long a sidekick of Thelonious Monk, provide an incendiary link to the past. (It was Rouse's last session; he died of cancer in December.) Roberts takes a studied approach to several tunes by Monk and Duke Ellington. But he shows he knows the blues in a hot rendition of his own "Country by Country." On The Countdown and The Truth Is Spoken Here, the master sidemen who surround Miller and Roberts offer them the ultimate compliment of testing them at every turn. Miller and Roberts prove more than equal to the challenge.

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