A long way to “Tales & Tones”
With “Tales & Tones,” saxophonist Troy Roberts presents his seventh album as the group’s leader. When I consider that Roberts hails from Perth, West Australia, I think about jazz’s early detractors that wanted to forbid the genre altogether. The prohibition of jazz failed in the United States and most of the world. This perseverance speaks volumes about the language and power of music.
It is not that I think there would be an obvious difference between “Australian jazz” and other types. I have not heard of such a thing. But to most people, Perth is quite remote. A world away, it would seem, from the urban landscapes and sophisticated nightlife associated with jazz in the United States. Roberts’ effort here is an energetic triumph. The sound is classic jazz, and the interplay between the musicians is collegial and free-spirited.
An American education in jazz
Now a New York City-based musician, Roberts completed his postsecondary and graduate education in the United States. He toured with a number of performers, including Aretha Franklin. His professional experiences eventually yielded Roberts prestigious awards such as three consecutive DownBeat Jazz Soloist Awards. A regular participant in international and national jazz festivals, and a member of multiple quartets, Roberts is uniquely placed to hear the story of jazz from different perspectives.
“Tales & Tones” contains nine tracks. All of which are worth discussing, but a favorite from the recording is the lively “Boozy Bluesy.”
The song begins with good-natured cajoling between musician friends. Listeners are unsure of what’s being said exactly, as the spoken part is interrupted with laughter, and it becomes obvious that exact words aren’t important—the nature of the interaction is. The human experience portion is brief, and after a few jaunty measures from the piano, an explosion of sound from the saxophone, drums and bass push the song toward its destination. The changing feel of the bass is most noticeable as the track goes along. Sometimes, the instrument’s strings sound hollow and rubbery, and moments later, they are nimble and being plucked at a good clip.
The kinetic nature of the song and the way it is structured, from the informal opening, to the decidedly sophisticated end, where the piano plays at lightning speed, the drums clatter almost out of time, and the bass runs along until the end, where all the speed has left the ensemble exhausted, and the saxophone and piano cajole each other toward the finish, and the bass sounds as if it will create the last note, and at last, a cymbal shimmers and the wild ride of a song is over. The relief felt is from the tension built by the song, not because of a disagreeable series of notes or chord structures.
The story of jazz
Roberts has put together a remarkable recording. The mostly original songs teach listeners about jazz’s possibilities, and the viability of the genre to demonstrate the human condition. A long way from Perth, West Australia, Roberts creates jazz that speaks volumes that almost everyone can understand.