Troy Roberts – Secret Rhymes [TrackList follows] – Inner Circle Music INCM051CD, 63:19 [5/8/15] ****:
(Troy Roberts – tenor saxophone, producer; Silvano Monasterios – piano; Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts – drums; Chris Smith – bass)
Don’t get confused by the title of tenor saxophonist Troy Robert’s sixth album as a leader. Secret Rhymes is not a spoken word or jazz vocal endeavor. And there’s nothing apparently hidden on the 63-minute CD which has five Roberts’ compositions; two jazz standards; and a classical/jazz hybrid piece. On his previous efforts, Roberts shifted from contemporary electric jazz (see his Nu-Jive projects as an example) and conceptual works (his 2008 release, Xenden Suite). On this quartet date, Roberts plays post-bop and bop-tilted material with a straightforward, nurtured jazz impression which features newer facets balanced with traditional elements. Roberts gets the most out of his stellar backing band, which comprises pianist Silvano Monasterios; drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and bassist Chris Smith.
Roberts may not be as well-known as some tenor sax players, but he’s doing quite well in the high-caliber NYC jazz scene. He first came to prominence when he lived in Western Australia and later got some award recognition from Down Beat magazine and the Australian music industry; and scored highly in the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Which all means: this guy can perform. So, even if Roberts is new to you, you should not ignore what he’s doing. And if you do appreciate his work, then Secret Rhymes is something you will probably enjoy.
Roberts bides his time before he introduces his own compositions, which helps in hearing what he can do with other musicians’ pieces before launching into what he can do with his own. He begins with something very familiar, Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight.” Roberts’ large tenor sound is upfront on the seven-minute version; Monasterios has the second solo and imparts striking chord progressions; and the rhythm section is dynamic and determined. The second track is the only idiosyncrasy among the others. Here, Roberts and his bandmembers purposely pivot through a nearly nine-minute rendition of Sergey Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Roberts’ approach is improvisational. He uses the main theme as a starting point, so he and Monasterios can bounce around the melody. Those not knowledgeable with Prokofiev may not recognize this as an item from the classical music realm, and those who prefer the orchestrated score possibly will find this a somewhat perturbing nod to the classical domain. Nevertheless, the results yield fine soloing on sax and piano. The third and final translation is a spirited spin through Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring,” which jazz fans should be acquainted with, since Art Blakey did it when Hubbard was in the Jazz Messengers, and it was later recorded by Hubbard on his 1967 Backlash LP and has been redone by artists such as George Coleman, Richard “Groove” Holmes and others. Over the course of 8 1/2 minutes, Roberts contributes brilliant soloing and showcases his robust tone. Monasterios slows the proceedings a bit when he takes the spotlight, delighting with sprinkled notes and his turns and twists up and down the keyboard.
The music Roberts penned for this album is ear-catching. He displays his contemplative side on “The Little Things,” where he is reflective and almost melancholy. The central motif is beautiful and resplendent. Roberts exhibits more of his superb sax. Smith takes a nice gentle solo where his notes ring off the stand-up bass and Monasterios supplies subtle but strengthening soloing where Bill Evans’s influence can be discerned. The foursome is rhythmically and harmonically astute on the quick-paced and swinging “Eyes Pie.” This number includes some innovativeness in the way Roberts’ solos are formed (Coltrane’s legacy can be perceived here), as well as the stupendous technique Monasterios demonstrates. There are also alert rhythmic changes. This cut is one to listen to several times. Roberts concludes with the title track, which commences with a Watts drum solo, then Smith glides in with bass, and then piano and sax enter, and the full momentum kicks in. This is extreme energy reminiscent of the glory days of the 1950s Blue Note era, when Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Sonny Clark and so many others delivered non-stop verve. Roberts, Watts, Smith and Monasterios never turn down over the course of nearly eight-minutes. Pure intensity. Secret Rhymes adeptly expresses the essence of the latest in improvised jazz while preserving traits of jazz history, in a balanced capacity which is fresh but keeps an eye on earlier periods of jazz. Those who are interested can watch a one-minute video sampler to get a better idea of what Roberts is doing.
TrackList: Stella by Starlight; Piano Concerto No .2; Trick or Treat; Up Jumped Spring; The Little Things; Eyes Pie; Trip; Secret Rhymes.