In Honor of Duke

COMPOSERS: Marcus Roberts
LABELS: Columbia
ALBUM TITLE: Marcus Roberts
PERFORMER: Marcus Roberts (p), Roland Guerin (b), Jason Marsalis, Antonio Sanchez (d, perc)
CATALOGUE NO: CK 63630

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Although its title might suggest yet another Duke Ellington tribute album with the obligatory romp through ‘Caravan’ as its climax, this carefully considered recording, in Marcus Roberts’s own words, celebrates ‘America, jazz and democracy’ as well as the origins, spirit and legacy of the music’s most accomplished composer.

Accordingly, Roberts’s dozen originals explore Ellington’s musical roots in New Orleans polyphony, his unique ensemble sound, and his influence on the likes of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk as well as celebrating what Roberts sees as the ‘American democratic right to swing through life with a positive attitude and uplifted spirit’.

The result is a polished, thoughtful, yet often delightfully rumbustious album, packed with fiercely intelligent interplay between Roberts and his eloquent bassist Roland Guerin, his regular drummer Jason Marsalis and guest percussionist Antonio Sanchez.

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Moving easily and unaffactedly between jaunty swing, grandiloquent drama and hymnic reverence, and culminating, appropriately enough, in a luxuriantly slow blues, this is a rich, powerful and memorable album. With a new generation of practitioners – Brad Mehldau, Jacky Terrasson, Lynne Arriale as well as Roberts – all exploring the medium, piano-trio jazz has seldom looked healthier. Chris Parker