Ernie Krivda, JD Allen, Marcus Roberts at Tri-C JazzFest 2008, Cleveland
The festival ended a week later back at the Reese Center. Pianist Marcus Roberts brought to town a more standard trio of piano, bass and drums. And what bass and drums! Perhaps trying to prove Roberts' mid-concert observation that "bass and drums are the core of anything truly American," Roland Guerin and Jason Marsalis gave a clinic on the strings and skins, respectively. Each visibly enjoyed the other's music- making company and coaxed his mate's playing to its height. The trio often exchanged musical jokes, infecting the crowd from the startthe afternoon was punctuated by laughter.
Roberts has a Ramsey Lewis-like sound that easily finds its way from staccato stops and starts, from the shock of chords struck so as to signal all the notes that will be left unplayed, into the dazzling roles of a concert pianist. As a result, listeners are often caught holding their breath, as if mere breathing might upset the impossibility of this fitful, headlong music.
Veteran trumpeter Marcus Belgrave joined the trio for a couple numbers near the show's finish. Appearing happy just to be there, in the moment, alive and blowing, Belgrave proved a natural extension of the group's jovial spirit. And the blasts from his horn, if tinged by an aged scratch, were nonetheless exhilarating.
Closing with "Sweet as Can Be," Roberts' gang summed up the fest's trio series as a whole. There's a greater crash and complexity to larger bands, but nothing exposes jazz's mischievous, thumping heart like a trio. Sweet as can be, indeed!