Although pianist Marcus Roberts threatened to disappear playing in the shadow of Wynton Marsalis as a member of his regular band, the solo albums The Truth Is Spoken Here and Deep in the Shed indicate that Roberts may be the most probing and intricate composer and player of the neotraditionalists. Because the neotrad movement is dedicated to conserving the jazz canon, a collection of standards like Roberts’s Alone with Three Giants (RCA) cannot discharge surprise voltage the way avantgardists do. Even so, Roberts makes fresh comments on Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Jelly Marcus Roll Morton, whom Roberts he roughly defines, respectively, as elegant dignity, mercurial introspection, and fun with whopping bass lines. If the project occasionally drifts toward an exercise by a sober scholar, the overriding tenor is pride— Roberts’s pride in the mighty citadel of music he explores, and pride in his outstanding craftsmanship. As we know, pride is often close to joy.
Roberts will be touring the country in March and April. —M.M.