Howard Roberts

Mr. Roberts Plays Guitar

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Howard Roberts was a very popular jazz guitarist on the cool west coast scene after he moved there in the mid-'50s. While approaching the popularity of Barney Kessel and the virtuosity of Joe Pass or Tal Farlow, Roberts was relegated to second division status, but remained a formidable and pleasing performer nonetheless. This reissue from the vaults of Verve and Intro records (officially his second effort as a leader) is structured in a manner where separate sessions from 1956 and 1957 are not programmed to be lumped together, but split up to hear the guitarist with strings, a flute, and double reed section, and help from tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper or vibraphonist Red Norvo. As a result, you hear different ensembles per track, showing a diversity of taste levels that Roberts employed. The four recordings with only strings sound tasteful and not overbearing, with bassist Red Mitchell adding exponentially to their high quality and class. "Serenata Burlesca" is surprisingly interactive, while the others are ballads, light and airy. Cooper sounds great on his three selections, witty and erudite, substantive and fluid, especially during the fleet bopper "Indiana" jousting with the pianist Pete Jolly, and in tandem with Roberts on the attractive "Jillzie." Of the two selections featuring the reed quartet, Jolly's bouncy piano informs the chamber like strings and woodwinds on the utterly delightful piece "The Innocents," and they congeal perfectly in harmonious refrains during "My Shining Hour." The cuts with Norvo are bonus tracks, and he is on four of the five even though attributed to only two. The guitar of Roberts scurries around Norvo on a great take of "Have You Met Miss Jones?," while big chords from all of the front line instruments are used for "I've Got the World on a String," and the band romps fast and furious through "Sweet Georgia Brown." There's a lone trio tune, "Little Girl," featuring the expert brushwork and effortless quick-time bop approach of drummer Joe Morello, clearly at the top of his game. This is a fine effort from Roberts, and though the bulk of these tracks is highly arranged, the bonus tracks are not. They provide insight and contrast into the kind of versatile jazz musician Howard Roberts was becoming.

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