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Hank Roberts

Even in a parallel universe where jazz cellists are as common as tenor madmen and trumpet-blowing boppers, Hank Roberts would be utterly unique. Over his nearly four-decade career, Roberts has forged a compelling original voice on the cello, encompassing abstract improvisation and soulful folk melodies, intricate new-music compositions and vigorous rock songs.

Roberts’ latest CD, Everything Is Alive, features three long-time compatriots: guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Jerome Harris, and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The 2012 Winter & Winter release continues the cellist’s relationship with producer Stefan Winter, which stretches back through the bulk of Robert’s discography. The album’s ten original compositions speak with a direct voice inflected with roots, rock and funk accents.

Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Roberts studied at Berklee and made his name on the legendary Downtown scene in 1980s New York. Faced with a dearth of mentors or peers on his instrument, he carved his own path through that fertile ground alongside such frequent collaborators as Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, Marc Ribot and John Zorn, finding a second home at the famed Knitting Factory. Like those fellow innovators, Roberts is equally at home in grand concert halls or dingy rock clubs, covering a wide swath of modern music.

The list of names with whom Roberts has shared stages or studios is staggering, including members of U2, Gavin Friday, Sting, Joel Grey, David Sanborn, Lydia Lunch, Mamadou Diabate, Andy Summers, Pat Metheny, Flo and Eddie, Gary Burton, Shane McGowan, and Julius Hemphill.

As a child, Roberts studied several different instruments and dreamed of one day becoming “a rock and blues guitar player, a jazz trombonist, and a classical cellist.” He has achieved all three, but on a single instrument, expanding the capability and vocabulary of the cello to accommodate his restless and wide-ranging imagination. He often accompanies himself with wordless vocals, emphasizing the pristine lyricism of his writing, even in the most angular and abstract of settings.

He has recently assembled a new quartet with Wollesen, Danish guitarist Jakob Bro, and Seattle bassist Luke Bergman and leads a trio with pianist John Stetch and drummer Jim Black. His 2008 CD Green, with Black and French guitarist Marc Ducret, won that year’s German Recording Critics’ Award. He is also a member of the folk group Ti Ti Chickpea and the anti-voilence ensemble Wiggy Dog Boy, which features his son on guitar. His solo performances are singularly compelling and unpredictable, wending from jagged dissonance to intoxicating pop songcraft.

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"When I first heard Hank Roberts' music more than 22 years ago, he had already found his own way of playing, his own voice. Since then, that voice has been getting stronger, clearer, more powerful, more beautiful, more soulful. It's all on his CD '22 Years From Now.' It's so rare to hear music this pure and it's so inspiring to know someone with the strength and courage to stay so true."

Guitarist Bill Frisell

“...One of the most respected improvising cellists on the international scene.”

Jazz Express

“He strums, plucks and bows his way through an incredible array of sounds, by turns far-out and spacey, then earthy and natural. It’s the sound of urban Jazz lofts, but also Irish firesides, Lenni Lenape dances, Jimi Hendrix and Stephen Foster.”

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Blue Roads

CAM Jazz
2022

buy

Safar-E-Daroon

Songlines Recordings
2020

buy

Deep Resonance

Fundacja Sluchaj
2020

buy

Ghost Dance

CAM Jazz
2019

buy

Pipe Dream

CAM Jazz
2018

buy

Everything Is Alive

Atlantic Records
2011

buy

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