Tuesday, November 9, 2021

This savvy arranger and his band keep things fresh

Pianist Jim Roberts is the Charlotte County Jazz Society's most frequent visitor as a bandleader. The CCJS concert in Port Charlotte FL on Monday, November 8 marked Roberts' 18th appearance dating to June 1991, when he was the organization's first concert performer. 

Jim Roberts

Roberts moved from New York City to Orlando shortly after his first CCJS gig. Through the years, he has brought trios, quartets, quintets and more. Since 2004, the sextet has been his steady band. He calls it his Saxtet because of its brass-rich front line, which features talented veterans Dan Jordan, Rex Wertz and David MacKenzie. Drummer Eddie Metz Jr. and bassist Doug Mathews were the band's rhythm aces. 

This time out, Roberts had another twist. The band expanded to a four-horn septet, with his wife, tenor saxophonist A.J. Roberts, joining the other reed players on three tunes.

Pianist, composer arranger and educator Roberts never lets his music sound stale or dated on the concert stage. Freshness and vitality abound, even on the staples you've heard at prior appearances.   

Jordan, Wertz, MacKenzie
After Jordan, Wertz and MacKenzie turned in a gorgeous flute choir on Thad Jones classic “A Child is Born,” Roberts told the crowd: “I just play piano and sit here and listen to these guys.”  Don't believe him. 

While he is blessed with a crystalline, swinging sound at the piano, his strongest asset is the arrangements he writes for the textures of his band. 

Eddie Metz Jr.
He gives each of his musicians extended solo space to take the music in new, varied directions. At times, the saxophonists perform beautiful unison horn lines. At others, they play slight variations or team up to add complementary accents behind the soloist.

Doug Mathews
Monday night's program began started with Duke Ellington (“Cottontail”) and ended with Count Basie (“Jumpin' at the Woodside”), burners that underscored the rhythm section's joyous groove. While this was Mathews' first CCJS appearance, he and Metz have worked together in other formats for many years. It showed from their chemistry.

The wide-ranging repertoire this night also included Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa," Jerome Kern's 1933 Great American Songbook classic "Yesterdays,"  Lalo Schifrin's "Towering Toccata," Miles Davis' "Freddie the Freeloader" and Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man."

Tenor Madness

The texture changed a lot when MacKenzie played his huge and robust bass sax on one tune in each set: Jimmy Heath's "On the Trail," based on Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," and later  "(Back Home Again in) Indiana." The latter is one of the oldest jazz recordings, dating to 1917.

A.J. Roberts
Other fine moments included Metz's spotlight feature on Sonny Rollins' grooving calypso "St. Thomas, and the four-tenor exploration of Rollins' classic "Tenor Madness" with A.J. Roberts aboard for the first time. She returned at the end of the second set for "Watermelon Man" and “Jumpin' at the Woodside,” which has become the band's traditional closer.

The piece de resistance for these ears, was another of Roberts' concert staples. His arrangement of the adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concerto de Aranjuez," is always stunning. The composition, originally written for guitar, is best known in jazz circles for the Miles Davis-Gil Evans beauty that opens the flamenco-tinged Sketches of Spain. This arrangement  features Roberts with a solo piano exploration of the exotic melody before shifting into a flute choir with an extended solo by Danny Jordan.

The concert drew a crowd of more than 175 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H Wakeman III Theater.

Jim Roberts, Jordan, Mathews, Wertz, MacKenzie, Metz, A.J. Roberts


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