Album Review

Marcus Roberts, 'New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1'

April 13, 2009
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Marcus Roberts New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1
ESSENTIAL "New Orleans Blues"

Where has Marcus Roberts been? One of jazz's hippest pianists, he's been off the radar for eight years, teaching at Florida State University. Now he's finally putting out another album that imparts a few lessons while swinging like crazy. Living up to its name, the album demonstrates how New Orleans music influenced jazz from Harlem. Roberts's trio - which includes bassist Roland Guerin and drummer Jason Marsalis - puts new twists on 11 familiar tunes by five important pianist-composers (before concluding with a song by Roberts). This is no academic exercise, though. Roberts delivers a deliciously modern stride style on Jelly Roll Morton's "New Orleans Blues," a tune that's more than 100 years old. He takes liberties with Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy," and Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer," shifting time signatures on a dime. The trio turns in an exuberant reading of Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'," refines Thelonious Monk's "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are" by excising the herky-jerkiness, and has its way with Jelly Roll's "Jungle Blues," starting in a fast 3/4 and ending in a slow 4/4. If a Vol. 2 is coming, let's hope it doesn't take another eight years, because Vol. 1 is an early contender for 2009's best jazz album. (Out today) STEVE GREENLEE