BY MICHAEL TOLAND
While it’s not unusual for jazz musicians to make albums paying tribute to a formative influence, they tend to cast a wide net on that influence’s catalog, creating their own personal best-ofs. It’s highly unusual for an entire album to be covered back to front. Pianist Marcus Roberts does just this with Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane, taking on Coltrane’s 1964 LP Crescent. Though that record has nowhere near the reputation of A Love Supreme or Giant Steps, it’s an important brick in Coltrane’s wall, showcasing the saxophonist at his most melodic and soulful. Roberts knows a thing or two about soul and melody, so he and his trio (bassist Rodney Jordan, drummer Jason Marsalis) sound perfectly at home with Coltrane’s suite. The rhythm section steps forward more prominently here, with Marsalis’s subtle cymbal work and Jordan’s swinging grooves as important to the atmosphere as the leader’s keyboard work. Speaking of which, Roberts channels a century of ivory tickling styles, from classical to stride to hard bop, filtering it all down to his own unique, virtuoso playing. From his lush chord work on “Crescent” and “Lonnie’s Lament” to his swinging solos on “Bessie’s Blues” and “Wise One,” Roberts demonstrates why he’s been quietly but insistently celebrated as a jazz titan for thirty years.
The band closes the record with a bonus performance of Coltrane’s “Traneing In,” Roberts prancing across the 88s like a man who just rediscovered his own skill. Reinterpreting a horn player’s work without having a horn is always a challenge, but one for which the Roberts Trio is clearly built.
DOWNLOAD: “Bessie’s Blues,” “Lonnie’s Lament,” “Traneing In”