Download: Marcus Roberts' "New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1"

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NICK DERISO: With “New Orleans Meets Harlem,” pianist Marcus Roberts explores the connections between two of jazz music’s most elemental tributaries — building on familiar ideas put in place by Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.

The record, Roberts’ first in eight years, hits the streets on Tuesday, March 31, and features bassist Roland Guerin and drummer Jason Marsalis. Good news: Keen and welcome touches of modernity keep this J-Master Records release from gathering the expected dust.

The trio isn’t content to simply copy previous masterstrokes, so much as recombine traditional elements in recognizable yet still surprising ways — layering upward from an inspirational canvas. There are splashes of post-bop interplay, soaring gospel, lilting Carribean beats and driving polyrhythms.

The opener, Morton’s “New Orleans Blues,” is a prime example. Roberts previously played this one close to the vest on his rather traditional solo 1990 release “Alone With Three Giants.”

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Roberts, a Florida native, found his earliest fame as a member of Wynton Marsalis’ Quartet, with whom he performed and recorded for six years. He signed a solo deal with Columbia Records in 1994, and made history when his first three recordings reached No. 1 on the Billboard traditional jazz charts.

Roberts, who lost his sight at the age of five, began teaching himself to play piano at age eight. He studied classical piano at Florida State with Leonidus Lipovetsky before joining Marsalis’ group.

Roberts remains active in education, as he and his trio regularly teach master classes and workshops for students from the elementary to collegiate levels. He serves on his alma mater’s faculty as an assistant professor of jazz studies.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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