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04/24/13

Marcus Roberts Nonet
Deep in the Shed: A Blues Suite
J-Master/Tunecore

Reinterpreting one’s own album isn’t as odd as it seems; after all, it happens with songs all the time. What is remarkable, however, is listening back to Roberts’ original Deep in the Shed from 1990 and realizing how beholden it is to Ellington. The 2013 rendition, by contrast, sounds like a Marcus Roberts album—a good one.

It marks Roberts’ increased pianistic confidence over 20-plus years: Tunes like “The Governor” and “Spiritual Awakening” feature a lighter touch, cleaner lines, chords less nakedly derivative of Ellington and Monk. More important, Roberts’ influences have broadened. His interest in traditional jazz appears in the horn lines of “Mysterious Interlude,” and some collective improv pops up in “E. Dankworth”—formerly a trumpet feature for Wynton Marsalis, now including solo space for everyone.

An expanded palette (nine instruments, adding second trumpet and tenor saxophone to the original’s septet) makes a difference, as does the new personnel. In particular, Stephen Riley’s dry, Getz-ian tenor sound serves the music beautifully, heightening the mystery of that aforementioned “Interlude.” Also, drummer Jason Marsalis’ sharp cymbal work is the distinguishing factor in the otherwise faithful recreation of “Nebuchadnezzar.” Alto saxophonist Wess Anderson, the only other holdover from the original album besides Roberts, has gained maturity and confidence like the leader: Even in ensemble passages (“Nebuchadnezzar”) he is noticeably more assertive than he was in 1990, when he mainly stuck to Johnny Hodges stylings.

Deep in the Shed also retains its bluesy feel—though “E. Dankworth” is the only actual blues in this Blues Suite—while lessening its sense of gloom. The one new tune, the lighthearted closer, “Athanatos Rythmos,” does much in that department. Fans of the original will enjoy this reimagining; anyone deciding between the two should pick this one.

Originally published in April 2013
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