While thousands of New York artists were getting brain-drained out of this city, cellist Hank Roberts went against the current and came back. And quickly returned to being a ubiquitous presence at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene. His new album Science of Love reflects a particularly fertile period after his return here, recorded in 2017, but just out now and streaming at Sunnyside Records.
Roberts is an exceptionally versatile and purposeful player. Sometimes he’s part of the rhythm section, walking the changes like a bass player as he does early during the opening number, a careening swing tune that doesn’t take long to hit a colorfully haphazard dixieland-flavored raveup with a bubbling interweave from trombonist Brian Drye, clarinetist Mike McGinnis. pianist Jacob Sacks and violinist Dana Lyn over drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s low-key groove. The rhythm drops out for a surreal freeze-frame tableau while Roberts picks up his bow for extra low-end resonance.
The album’s epic centerpiece is a fourteen-part suite titled G. It opens with a title track of sorts, Sperrazza’s altered latin groove quickly giving way to Sacks’ clusters and then a bright, anthemic theme from the rest of the band, which they take on a loose-limbed stroll with echoes of the Claudia Quintet.
Many of the suite’s segments are miniatures, akin to film set pieces. There’s a tongue-in-cheek, distantly suspenseful interlude, an uneasy, Satie-esque piano theme, and a cello/piano conversation that decays from austere steadiness to playful leaps and bounds. Roberts wafts uneasily over Sacks’ brooding minimalism and Sperrazza’s muted, scattershot snare in the fourth segment, Earth Sky Realms,
Part five, titled D23 pairs Roberts’ bluesy riffs against Lyn’s coy, jawharp-like accents and Sperrazza’s squirrelly shuffling as the harmonies grow denser and hazier. How funny is Levity Village? It’s more of an expectant, resonant string theme. The two brief passages afterward flit and dance acidically, then Roberts and Sacks pair off in a more wistful direction.
A wryly tiptoeing. deceptively catchy dance gives way to the GLC Magnetic Floating Stripper, a cheery quasi-match that shifts to more rhythmically unsettled terrain, McGinnis’ soprano sax bobbing and spiraling in a stormy sea of low midrange piano.
A lusciously lustrous, Ellingtonian theme introduces the suite’s practically thirteen-minute next-to-last section, which kicks off with a fondly lyrical trombone/piano duet, Roberts stepping in for Sacks with darkly sustained chords as Drye solos amiably. A shambling, undulating groove sets in as the music grows more dense yet also more agitated. Roberts’ solo, from stark acerbity to a little funk, is arguably the high point of the record. Anxious piano and cello trade off as Sperrazza rustles, then the whole group gets into the act. They close the suite on a surprisingly suspenseful note and then close the album with a rainy-day orchestral melody.
Roberts’ next gig is July 24 at the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival upstate.