Review: Marcus Roberts Trio, Musicians from GSMD - New Orleans Meets Harlem(LJF)

Jason Marsalis, Rodney Jordan, Marcus Roberts
Photo credit: Roger Thomas from a different concert in the residency


Marcus Roberts Trio and Guildhall School Musicians - New Orleans Meets Harlem
(Kings Place, Hall One , 17th November 2012. LJF. Review by Frank Griffith)


For their first set, the Marcus Roberts Trio and the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra directed by Martin Hathaway collaborated on a selection of Ellington and Basie big band chestnuts such as Koko, In A Mellow Tone, Main Stem, Lil' Darlin and The Kid From Red Bank. The students rose to the occasion well. Their ensemble playing was of very high quality, and they fielded an impressive bevy of creative and fleet soloists. Martin Hathaway's supportive and encouraging conducting manner was hugely additive, providing swells, diminuendos, his manner of directing the band was subtle but highly effective. This is an essential role and responsibility for a guiding a large ensemble and Martin fulfilled it with aplomb. One quibble: I found that the lack of a written programme was regrettable, meaning that I cannot name check the GJO soloists.

Marcus's trio was dynamic and dizzying with the solidly swinging and fully rounded bass lines of Rodney Jordan along with the light touch and supportive percussion of Jason Marsalis, the youngest of the four brothers from that historic and influential jazz family from the Crescent City. The good vibes that the trio projected outwards (to audience and the big band) could be summed up in Mr Jordan's gleeful encouragement of fellow student bassist from the GJO while they swapped choruses walking basslines. Such support and positivity is contagious.

Pianist Roberts is a force of nature with his ebullient touch, and his mastery of so many idioms throughout the decades of jazz piano. His contribution went from light-fingered fills on Lil Darlin, through a powerful two-handed "octavising" in The Kid From Red Bank, to brief but memorable solo boogie woogie excursion in the second half. Also,his ability to remember and fully aknowledge the names of all the GJO soloists was remarkable, admirable, generous and noteworthy.

The second set featured a handful of Robert's pieces for a smaller ensemble consisting of five saxes and four brass which posed too extreme a contrast for this listener in comparison to the first set. These pieces were much more vehicles for improvisation and lesser exercises for jazz composition. The addition of New Orleanian trumpeter, Etienne Charles, however, brought something very special to the party. His melodic swing and swagger coupled with his big and rich tone enhanced the proceedings with a bravado that brought the evening to a winning finish.

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