Hank Roberts’ Kaleidoscope

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Cellist Hank Roberts is back in New York City to embark on projects with old friends.

(Photo: Lynda Wyatt)

In the early 1970s, when Hank Roberts was a high school student in Terre Haute, Indiana, he aspired to become a jazz trombonist, classical cellist, and blues guitarist. Ultimately Roberts perfected himself in the cello, and during the 80s and 90s he became an inspiring practitioner of this instrument via recordings and tours with Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, the Arcado string trio with bassist Mark Dresser and violinist Mark Feldman; and other members of the emerging “downtown jazz” scene in New York City. There were also several well-crafted leader’s albums that featured his own poetic jazz slang with American overtones, harmonic sense, and rhythmic flair. In each setting, Roberts projected a powerful arsenal of extended, rubbed and pinched techniques, transforming the cello into a true orchestra.

Roberts merges all of the aforementioned styles and attributes on his latest release, Science of love (Sunnyside), consisting primarily of a 44-minute, 13-part kaleidoscopic suite titled “G”. Recorded in June 2017, it is a unified, bespoke work tailored to the tonal personalities of a virtuoso sextet – trombonist Brian Drye, violinist Dana Lyn, woodwind Mike McGinness, pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Vinnie. Sperrazza – whom Roberts, a father of four, met after responding to his youngest’s 21st birthday by moving to Brooklyn from Ithaca, New York. In the spring of 2018, Sacks and Sperrazza joined Roberts on Congeries of ethereal phenomena (Newvelle Records), an interactive encounter on which Roberts, acting as the only “horn”, effusively tackles six adventurous originals, an abstraction of “Evidence” by Thelonious Monk and a swing version of “Indiana” extrapolated from Charlie’s counterfeit Parker “Donna Lee.”

He returned to Ithaca in 2019, where he spoke in June about his 2015 imperatives. “Although I was playing and recording, a limited group of people could hear me,” said Roberts. “I wanted my work to be recognized and to try to make a living from it – and a sense of community by playing and connecting with people at that level. “

At the age of 61, Roberts embarked on new endeavors with old friends like Berne, Michael Formanek and Marty Ehrlich, and with his next-generation Brooklyn collaborators, who deeply respected Roberts’ distinguished body of work. Shortly after, Drye invited Roberts – who wrote music for woodwind player Anna Webber and drummer Tomas Fujiwara – to play at Ibeam, the prominent creative music hall he oversees in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn.

In no time, Roberts summoned his sextet and began to design the music. “I thought about putting in place a framework that would inspire and challenge each person, and bring them to a place of revelation where they could discover something and bring that excitement of discovery and self-discovery to the table,” did he declare.

“We were trying things out, and Hank made adjustments and new sections,” said Sacks, who compared the interaction with Roberts to “playing with a great singer”. “It certainly wasn’t, ‘This is my room; now we are going to give it back. It was certainly a lot more: “Who are these people? What are your sounds? “

When we spoke, Roberts was planning a tour in September with Frisell behind Harmony (Blue Note), their 10th album together, on which he sings (and plays cello) with singer Petra Haden and bassist Luke Bergman. Then he hopes to settle in New York, where he intends to resume activity with the sextet and continue with Drye on the trombonist. Love call trio (Open Stream) album with drummer Ches Smith. Other recent collaborations include Vancouver guitarist-oudist Gordon Grdina Marrow, a jazz-Arabic-Persian oriented project that includes Roberts on Ejdeha and Safar-e-Daroon (Songlines); with Pipe Dream, an Italian quintet documented on an eponymous 2017 album (CAM Jazz); and, separately, in duet with Pipe Dream trombonist, Filippo Vignato, documented in 2019 Ghost dance (CAM Jazz).

“Not being with the people I connect with through music has affected me,” Roberts said of his COVID experience, before breaking down the Science of love Title. “It showed me how special it is to work together and communicate like we do. I am interested in astrophysics and I love looking at the universal laws and principles that create life. It also equates to love, and it’s one of the things that draws us to music. Comics


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