Saxophonist Troy Roberts preserves a classic and standard jazz approach.
Troy Roberts – Tales & Tones [TrackList follows] – Inner Circle Music INCM066CD, 62:35 (1/5/17) ****:
(Troy Roberts – tenor and soprano saxophone, producer; Silvano Monasterios – piano; Robert Hurst – upright bass; Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts – drums)
On his seventh outing as a leader, Tales & Tones, saxophonist Troy Roberts has a few stories to tell, and conveys them like the expressive and professional musician he is. Roberts may not be as well-known as some other saxophonists who reside and perform regularly in the New York City area, but he’s got some solid history with established players. Roberts has been or still is a member of bands led by drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Hammond B-3 organist Joey DeFrancesco. He’s also collaborated with pianist Silvano Monasterios, Dave Grusin and others.
Roberts retains Monasterios and Watts—who were on Roberts’ previous album, 2015’s Secret Rhymes—and adds bassist Robert Hurst (who, like Watts, has some spent time with members of the Marsalis clan). Together the four musicians present an hour-long program of mostly traditional jazz (with some modern touches here and there), with six Roberts originals, and covers by Billy Strayhorn, Bernie Miller and John Sangster. Roberts’ tunes swing: some swing hard, some swing with softer aplomb. Everything holds or sustains a consistent, post-bop stance with keen connections to conventional jazz. Roberts would have fit in well with the 1980s-jazz crowd (like Watts and Marsalis) who championed a return to standard jazz. The quartet kick off strongly with two Roberts compositions. The nearly nine-minute “Decoration” has plenty of improvisational space for each artist, but Watts and Roberts shine. Watts maintains a dancing and cavorting rhythmic liveliness while Roberts glides, soars and contributes prodigious riffs on his high-toned soprano sax. About halfway through “Decoration,” Monasterios takes the second solo with fast-moving piano creativeness. The 7:21 “Trams” begins with a percolating, mid-tempo structure with a piano vamp, staccato drumming, and a neo-bop mannerism. Roberts has the spotlight on his tenor sax, and proves why he’s a formidable tenor man. There is a compelling intricacy between Monasterios and the rhythm section when Monasterios solos.
Roberts comes from Perth in Western Australia, and confirms his ‘down under’ roots with an interpretation of Australian composer John Sangster’s moody ballad, “Rivera Mountain.” This lamenting, thoughtful number is one of the most masterful ballads you’ll hear this year. Hurst fashions stylish and stylistic bass notes with a warm tone while Watts showcases his expertise at slow tempo nuances and shaded rhythmic textures. Roberts has a seemingly laid back facility, but there is subtle deepness to what he does during this beautiful ballad. Bernie Miller’s bop-leaning “Bernie’s Tune” is another adept rendition. Gerry Mulligan and Art Pepper both did “Bernie’s Tune,” so you can imagine Roberts upholds the kind of classic jazz Mulligan and Pepper espoused. While both Pepper and Mulligan were part of the West Coast ‘cool jazz’ scene, the upbeat “Bernie’s Tune” is anything but complacent, calm or relaxed. The quartet provides a shifting and steadfast rhythm which ebbs a few times for some fine soloing from Roberts, but mostly this is hard-swinging jazz. The record’s most famous cut is Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and this is where Roberts truly tells a robust story. The ensemble commences with an unhurried introduction, somewhat akin to a train building up steam in the boiler, and then the celebrated theme slips in, and the train leaves the station, with the speed picking up, the melodic supplements escalating, and a swinging temperament takes form. Roberts’ spirited reading of this familiar narrative shows how Roberts can take a stand-by standard and turn it around to yield a re-energized verve while still demonstrating reverence.
Roberts ends his project with three more of his compositions. The five-minute “Pickapoppy” keeps a persistent ambiance with blue-hued tonal coloring. “Pickapoppy” is one of Roberts’ more modernistic works, with a forward-thinking slant which does not sacrifice a listenable bond or communication. The slightly askew and incisive “Mr. Pinononnk” features perceptive solos from Roberts and Monasterios, while Watts and Hurst supply acerbic and varied rhythms which blend a tango-esque advancement with a military march-like construction. There’s no information on Mr. Pinononnk, but if this track is a portrayal of his personality, he must have been a rare raconteur. Roberts saves his lengthiest piece for the conclusion with the twisting and soulful, “Boozy Bluesy,” where Roberts gravitates toward a hard-charging timbre reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley. Watts delivers a chugging beat on his drum kit, and Monasterios accelerates across his 88 keys when he takes the limelight. If you haven’t yet crossed paths with Troy Roberts, you should hear what he says on his newest document, Tales & Tones.
TrackList: Decoration; Trams; Rivera Mountain; Bernie’s Tune; Cotu Chi Chi Chi; Take the ‘A’ Train; Pickapoppy; Mr. Pinononnk; Boozy Bluesy