Composer, arranger and bandleader Jim Roberts was the Charlotte
County Jazz Society’s first guest artist with an outdoor concert back in 1991,
the year he move to the Orlando area from New York City. He’s been a frequent
visitor to the CCJS concert series over the years – and his visits never get dated
He brought his Saxtet, with a mighty three-reed horn line, back to Port Charlotte FL on
Monday, March 11. They turned in a superb performance coursing through a wide
range of jazz material.
Roberts plays the piano, and plays it well in a sprightly style,
but his finest contribution is the intricate, swinging extended arrangements he
has crafted for the band. There are lush three-flute and three-sax choruses
(sometimes a blend of alto, soprano and tenor, sometimes three tenors). A bit
of sax counterpoint sneaks in from time to time. And there is ample space for
soloing by all of the horn players.
The band included Danny Jordan, Rex Wertz and David MacKenzie on a
variety of saxes and flutes, bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Eddie Metz
Jr. This was Neuenschwander’s first performance with the Saxtet. His distinctive, resonating bass line complemented the
other players, and kept things swinging mightily in tandem with Metz’s
always-solid drum work.
Roberts draws from many different areas in the jazz repertoire.
This night featured 14 tunes including two originals. There were only four
repeats from the Saxtet’s appearance three years ago.
Those gems, the adagio from Joaquin
Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez” (transformed into a jazz classic on Miles
Davis and Gil Evans Sketches of Spain
project, Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness” and Count
Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside," which was the high-energy closer for the night. And
even those sound freshened and updated, from Roberts’ arrangements, from the
solo improvisations - or a bit of both.
The Saxtet’s 2016 appearance featured only Roberts’ artful
arrangements of jazz chestnuts. This time out, he treated the audience to two
of his originals, the beautiful waltz “Pretty Lady” featuring the flute chorus,
and the more-uptempo second-set opener, “Breaker.” He also shared a shimmering
solo-piano version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”
Other treats: a blend of “What is This Thing Called Love” and Charlie
Parker’s “Hot House,” which Bird performed over the former tune’s chord
changes; Miles Davis’ “Freddie the Freeloader,” Herbie Hancock’s classic
composition “Dolphin Dance,” and film and TV composer Lalo Schifrin’s exotic “Towering
There were three clear highlights to my ears:
- The piano and flute chorus features that set the tone on the flamenco-tinged “Concerto de
- The band’s romp through Sonny Rollins’ calypso “St. Thomas” was
fueled by the Neuenschwander-Metz groove, with the drummer using hands but no
sticks for a large portion of his spotlight solo.
- Roberts’ creative arrangement of
a medley of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” and “Donna Lee,” which was based on the
former tune’s chord changes, weaved successively through three very different jazz styles. It
started with a Dixieland flair, evolved into a Swing tune, then blossomed into
a bebop burner. MacKenzie started out on his giant bass saxophone, then shifted
to alto sax for the bop segment.
I’ve been fortunate to hear this band three times (2013, 2016,
2019) in the eight seasons I’ve been attending CCJS concerts, and this one was
The concert at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater drew a crowd of about 350 listeners.
|The Jim Roberts Saxtet|