Roberts gets help in evening of Gershwin

Saturday night at the Egg’s Hart Theater, pianist Marcus Roberts, with the help of his trio and a po
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Keeping George Gershwin fresh comes easy for some. Saturday night at the Egg’s Hart Theater, pianist Marcus Roberts, with the help of his trio and a portion of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, showed us how to make the classics sound brand-new, the inverse of his usual talent — making the brand-new sound classic.

Thirty-one members of the symphony, led by David Alan Miller, joined the trio after several songs for “Variations on I Got Rhythm,” a 1930s composition that moved between the trio’s modern groove and the orchestra’s classic rendition.

While collectively they never strayed from the familiar melody, the song moved through numerous movements around the theme. Miller joined the trio for a triumphant bow after the medley to the first set.

The trio opened the show with a string of mid-tempo Gershwin tunes, including “Oh Lady Be Good,” It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “A Foggy Day” and “Embraceable You.”

Drummer Jason Marsalis — yes, brother of Branford and Wynton — drove the trio with delicate but swinging brush work across a snare that traveled soft and clear across the quiet room. Roberts leaves a lot of space between his keyboard phrasing, using the silence to frame his ideas.

At the same time, he likes to leave room for Marsalis and bassist Roland Guerin to communicate their own messages when appropriate.

Roberts stretched a bit during the jumpy “The Man I Love,” taking his time to explore some ideas, backing off others. During “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” Guerin took his bass solo. Rather than razzle dazzle with speed and technique, he stayed close to the melody, singing the song through his bass strings. Roberts followed with a strong solo that played the melody with his left hand while he razzle-dazzled with the right, zipping around the high keys.

It was nice to see the Hart Theater mostly full, probably the draw of three similar but different markets: symphony fans, Roberts fans and Gershwin’s wide audience.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra opened the second set without the trio, playing Gershwin’s show tune “Oh Kay” that mined the more playful side of the piece, while giving it an older, classical impression.

They followed with a thoughtful, sweet “Lullaby,” a tune Gershwin wrote as a 21-year-old.

The trio joined for “Rhapsody in Blue.” The two groups performed a more integrated piece here, as opposed to the first set where they kind of took turns within the arrangement, though they did that here, too. The trio took off with a hot tempo for several rounds to start the tune, Roberts more aggressive than any other time of the night. The symphony orchestra then took over the tune, the trio operating underneath but very much part of the sound.

The program, a culmination of two days of rehearsing between the trio and orchestra, was part of the George Gershwin New York Living Legacy project and continues next Sunday night at The Egg with a performance by Bill Charlap and Sandy Stewart.

Before playing the first note of the night, Roberts said, “I hope you dig it.”

We did.

Categories: Life and Arts

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