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Hank Roberts with Marc Ducret and Jim Black: Green

There aren’t many jazz musicians who’re cellists, and there aren’t many cellists like Hank Roberts. On Green, his return from semi-retirement, the Ithaca-based veteran of the Downtown music scene not only does what’s expected-that is, bow linear melodies-he also mimics the sound of guitar, sometimes plucking a folk revival chord or vamping on a blues lick. Throw in the occasional vocal and you’ve got a bandleader who barely needs a band. And yet he’s got a great one. Marc Ducret is the rare Metheny-style guitarist who can shred as convincingly as any headbanger. And Jim Black, who rounds out the trio, is one of the most musical drummers in jazz-one of the few, along with Joey Baron, to successfully incorporate the influence of underground rock.

As good as it all sounds, however, the musicianship sometimes outshines the songs themselves. “Trees,” in particular, could do without Roberts’ NPR-announcer vocal and lyrics about “ancient wise ones” and “spirit duties.” He comes across as a more convincing singer when he sticks to a wordless croon (“Azul” and “Prayer”). Like Roberts’ cello playing, it’s a haunting sound: half-jazz, half-something else. We would be lucky to hear a lot more of it.

Originally Published