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Marcus Roberts

Presented by Playboy Jazz Festival and Alex Theatre. Band: Roberts, Ted Nash, Steven Riley, Victor Goines, Randall Haywood, Marcus Printup, Ron Westray, Vincent Gardner, Roland Guerin, Jason Marsalis, Academy of the Ascension Orchestra. Reviewed Sept. 27, 1996. With the release of his "Portraits in Blue" album (Sony Classical) this summer, pianist Marcus Roberts opened a whole can of worms about the essential nature of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." And in the inaugural event of the Playboy Jazz Festival's In Concert series at the Alex , Roberts made a spirited live defense of his freewheeling take on the "Rhapsody ," which was easily the hit of the evening. The battle lines are stark. "Rhapsody in Blue" began life as a raucous, new-fangled merger of jazz and the concert hall in the Flapper Age, but soon became frozen in stone as a classical piece; concert pianists today routinely learn it note for note. Well, Roberts has dared to break the taboo and turn the "Rhapsody" into a framework for improvisation, with impressionistic classical extensions and jazz flights ranging from mild stride to Brubeck-like chordal attacks. Even if Roberts' own musical ideas on the wing aren't as interesting as Gershwin's, he may be bravely paving the way for other, perhaps more inspired attempts. In any case, the Gershwin/Roberts "Rhapsody in Blue" worked better live in Glendale than on the disc, as Roberts' big band and string ensemble turned in a far more exuberant performance. In fact, this performance which contained almost all of what Gershwin wrote, anyway had more of the authentically snazzy feeling we get from the early Gershwin/Paul Whiteman recordings of "Rhapsody" than many a modern note-perfect "pops" concert run-through. Clarinetist Ted Nash got right into the raucous spirit, as did several brass soloists, and drummer Jason Marsalis, the youngest of that clan, set up brisk grooves with his brushes in the empty spaces. Actually, the "Rhapsody" had the effect of charging up an otherwise dragging evening where Roberts, working alternately with a trio and a 10-piece ensemble, fell into many repetitively unfocused stretches that were dimly projected into the hall. Roberts' writing for brass and reeds in "Express Mail Delivery" has the same studied neo-Ellington sound as that of his mentor Wynton Marsalis and his stage patter is similar, too, though not quite as arch. Richard S. Ginell

Presented by Playboy Jazz Festival and Alex Theatre. Band: Roberts, Ted Nash, Steven Riley, Victor Goines, Randall Haywood, Marcus Printup, Ron Westray, Vincent Gardner, Roland Guerin, Jason Marsalis, Academy of the Ascension Orchestra. Reviewed Sept. 27, 1996. With the release of his “Portraits in Blue” album (Sony Classical) this summer, pianist Marcus Roberts opened a whole can of worms about the essential nature of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” And in the inaugural event of the Playboy Jazz Festival’s In Concert series at the Alex , Roberts made a spirited live defense of his freewheeling take on the “Rhapsody ,” which was easily the hit of the evening. The battle lines are stark. “Rhapsody in Blue” began life as a raucous, new-fangled merger of jazz and the concert hall in the Flapper Age, but soon became frozen in stone as a classical piece; concert pianists today routinely learn it note for note. Well, Roberts has dared to break the taboo and turn the “Rhapsody” into a framework for improvisation, with impressionistic classical extensions and jazz flights ranging from mild stride to Brubeck-like chordal attacks. Even if Roberts’ own musical ideas on the wing aren’t as interesting as Gershwin’s, he may be bravely paving the way for other, perhaps more inspired attempts. In any case, the Gershwin/Roberts “Rhapsody in Blue” worked better live in Glendale than on the disc, as Roberts’ big band and string ensemble turned in a far more exuberant performance. In fact, this performance which contained almost all of what Gershwin wrote, anyway had more of the authentically snazzy feeling we get from the early Gershwin/Paul Whiteman recordings of “Rhapsody” than many a modern note-perfect “pops” concert run-through. Clarinetist Ted Nash got right into the raucous spirit, as did several brass soloists, and drummer Jason Marsalis, the youngest of that clan, set up brisk grooves with his brushes in the empty spaces. Actually, the “Rhapsody” had the effect of charging up an otherwise dragging evening where Roberts, working alternately with a trio and a 10-piece ensemble, fell into many repetitively unfocused stretches that were dimly projected into the hall. Roberts’ writing for brass and reeds in “Express Mail Delivery” has the same studied neo-Ellington sound as that of his mentor Wynton Marsalis and his stage patter is similar, too, though not quite as arch. Richard S. Ginell

Marcus Roberts

(Alex Theatre, Glendale; 1,250 seats; $ 29.50 top)

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