Jazz Reviews : Pianist Marcus Roberts Makes His Local Debut
On a temporary leave of absence from the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, the widely praised 25-year-old pianist Marcus Roberts made his local debut as a leader Thursday at the Vine Street Bar & Grill, heading his own acoustic quintet.
Like Marsalis, Roberts has elected to pattern himself along the lines of the 1960s hard-bop groups, using mostly conventional instrumentation and material, with trumpet, saxophone, bass and drums for company.
If Roberts has not yet found a strongly individual route to follow, he compensates through his often ingenious incorporation of a variety of early keyboard styles.
Three pervasive elements of the set were the blues, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. Of the six tunes, four had a blues basis, beginning with Roberts’ own “Country by Choice,” continuing with Monk’s “Blue Bolivar Blues” and ending with the quirky “Raise Four.” A Todd Williams original entitled “For Coltrane” (also a blues) showcased well-crafted soprano and tenor sax solos by Herbert Harris III, whose other feature, “I Wish I Knew,” is a 1945 pop song best known through Coltrane’s recording.
Completing the group were the capable Scotty Barnhart on trumpet, and two young musicians from St. Louis, Maurice Carnes on drums and Chris Thomas on bass. The latter pair had a little trouble establishing the steady, sympathetic pulse that could have given the rhythm section a fuller measure of cohesion.
Surprisingly, only the opening “Country by Choice” was excerpted from Roberts’ successful debut album. He would be well-advised to use more items from that diversified collection. We bow to no one in our admiration for the blues, but isn’t four of six a trifle excessive?
Roberts closes Sunday.