Hank Roberts

Hank Roberts + Cello = ❤

NYC- Oct 8-16, 2016


Photo by Craige Roberts

Photo by Craige Roberts

On Saturday, October 8th I rehearsed with Rudy Royston's group, '4 Soul' (with Gary Versace on Accordion, Linda Oh on bass, John Ellis on reeds, me on cello, and Rudy Royston playing drums and presenting his compositions. What a great combination of musicians and instruments.  The blend and timbre of this group is really special, in edition to the superb musicianship of all of the players. We had a fun and productive rehearsal, and then performed to an enthusiastic audience on the following day at the 'ALL NIGHT SOUL FESTIVAL' at St Peter's Church in Manhattan.

 It looks like we'll be playing at The Winter Jazz Festival in New York sometime around January 6-8, 2017. I will post on my website 'PERFORMANCES' page as soon as I have the details. It is so gratifying to be performing with my friend Rudy and this group. 



Photo by Bill Mazza

Photo by Bill Mazza

During the following week, I rehearsed with the Hank Roberts Sextet a few times. Dana Lyn on violin, Michael McGinnis on clarinet and soprano sax, Brian Drye on trombone, Jacob Sacks on piano, Vinnie Sperrazza on drums, and myself on cello. 

We dove right into 2 new compositions.  One, called 'Pa Tu X', which is a new extension of an older piece that I wrote back around 1990 called 'Sat/Sun'. ('Saturday/Sunday' was a composition featured on my 1990 Winter & Winter release called 'LITTLE MOTOR PEOPLE'). After our first run-through at rehearsal, I was wondering if I had written something worthy of our rehearsal time, but as we began to work on it more, it came to life. I love to rehearse with this group, especially when the music is complicated. We've been playing together enough (and these players have so much history together, as well..) that we know how to find the timbre, intonation and dynamics that serve the music in the best way.  It's so satisfying to see the music unfold/bloom into clarity. The other new piece is called '205' in honor of the room I rented this year in an apartment while living in Brooklyn.  In addition to honoring the room, I honor the friendships and musical collaborations that began there. 

Both these pieces came together for our concert at The Greenwich House on Barrow St in Manhattan this past weekend, Oct 15th, 2016. We played as a part of the 'SOUND IT OUT' series there hosted by Bradley Bambarger. It was another 'adventure filled' performance, and I'm very excited with how the music is developing. Our friend Jason Tubbs was there engineering a multi-track recording of the evening. Reflecting on the history of the project, the evening felt like the successful realization, perhaps a milestone, of a lot of work to put the music together, the ensemble, and publicity efforts (we actually got a pick in the New York Times from Nate Chinen).  Thomas Conrad from The New York Jazz Journal had this to say about a live recording of my composition 'G', recently written for this group.   "Roberts creates an enormous variety of moods and textures. There is indeed the “crunch of the chords” but also subtle voicings beneath pensive, evolving melodies. Dynamic swings are huge, from quietude to wild clamor. There are vivid solo moments from all six players, but it is even more exciting when they improvise together and more exciting still when the whole ensemble returns to Roberts’ form and locks onto it." (You can see the entire article that this quote is from, below on this page.)

A little over a year ago, I started spending more time in New York City, initially renting several fall 2015 sublets, and then graduating to renting a room in Brooklyn starting in January 2016.  This has been a rich time musically for me. You can read more about the Sextet, the music, and how it all came together here. We'll be performing at The Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn on Dec 16th, 2016.


Sean Moran's 'SUN TIGER' Oct 16th, 2016 at Barbes, with Sean Moran on guitar and compositions, Vinnie Sperrazza on drums, and Hank Roberts on cello.

Photo by Joel Frenzer

Photo by Joel Frenzer

I finished off the week performing with guitarist/composer Sean Moran's project 'SUN TIGER', with  Vinnie Sperrazza on drums, at Barbes in Brooklyn, Oct 16th, 2016. This was our 3rd concert with this group playing Sean's music. In rehearsal a couple of days before the concert, we learned a new piece by Sean called 'Percibal'. This felt like a significant concert for us, as I think we made big strides towards playing together based on really listening and reacting to each other's ideas, as well as the thematic material in Sean's compositions.  We have more dates coming up: January 22, 2017 at Ibeam, and at Barbes on January 24th, 2017.  We'll go into the recording studio on that week to record the music, which I think Sean plans to release as a CD.

 Thanks to all who helped to make it a great week.



New York Jazz Journal October 2016 feature article on Hank and his Sextet performing at The Greenwich House in Manhattan on October 15th, 2016.


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ENCORE (form the New York Jazz Journal, October 2016)


by thomas conrad

Jazz musicians today are ever in quest of new sounds. One result is the proliferation of atypical instruments. There are more tubas and bassoons and sopranino saxophones and accordions out there than ever before. Add to this list the cello, integral to Western music but relatively rare in jazz. Erik Friedlander, Anja Lechner, Tomeka Reid and Hank Roberts are among the cellists now much in demand.

When you hear Roberts on Marty Ehrlich’s Frog Leg Logic, you wonder why more bandleaders don’t substitute a cello for the bass. Roberts transforms Ehrlich’s quartet. He plays pizzicato or arco or both at once, moving freely between the rhythm section and the frontline. He bows rich, resonant backgrounds for the horns and makes articulate solo statements.

Roberts grew up in Terre Haute and briefly attended the local university, Indiana State. He played trombone, drums and guitar as a boy, but soon settled on the cello. He took lessons from Robert Montgomery, who had studied with the great cellists Leonard Rose and János Starker. His classical training ended at age 18, when he “put everything into improv.” He went to Berklee in Boston in 1973 but stayed only one semester: “I had assumed there’d be a bunch of cello teachers at Berklee. There weren’t.” Roberts considers himself “very much self-taught.” He says, “Concepts like harmony and rhythm are the same for everybody, regardless of instrument. When I play, I’m hearing all my favorite drummers and guitarists and saxophonists and I’m translating their expressions into the framework of the moment.”

The most important thing Roberts did at Berklee was meet Bill Frisell. They became musical partners-in- crime for 40 years and counting. Roberts has filled many roles on the guitarist’s albums. On Lookout for Hope, he expands the color palette and lightens the ensemble. On Unspeakable, a Grammy winner, he is in a string section, playing Frisell’s string arrangements.

On Richter 858, this same string trio is alone with Frisell and Roberts is more interactive. On Big Sur, Roberts often functions as a bassist. You may think that Frisell just likes the sound of the cello. But on the phone from his home in Seattle, he says, “As a musician and as a person, Hank always lifts things up. It’s not about the cello. It’s about his imagination and his energy.”

Roberts lived mostly in the New York area in the ‘80s, deeply involved in the Downtown scene based at the Knitting Factory. He says, “As years go by you realize what a godsend that place was. It was a whole community of people who were experimenting. It got John Zorn started, doing his first conceptual pieces. Tim Berne, Don Byron, Mark Feldman, Craig Harris, Joey Baron, Bobby Previte—they were all around.”

As a leader, Roberts has been with one label family for 30 years: Stefan Winter’s JMT in Munich, which became Winter & Winter in 1995. His two most recent albums are eclectic joint ventures with guitarists: Marc Ducret on Green and Frisell on Everything Is Alive. On both, the dominant Americana sensibility is diversified by insidious grooves and sporadic abstraction. Pizzicato, Roberts can whine like a sitar. Arco, his yearning sonorities speak directly to the heart, perhaps because of their proximity to the human voice. His songs are earthy (“Cola People”) or graceful (“Necklace”) or both (“Open Gate”). They linger in the mind long after they subside.

Roberts moved to Ithaca, New York in 1989. By the mid ‘90s he had four children. He cut so far back on his touring schedule that some people thought he had retired. Actually he was staying busy around Ithaca: “I had bands and put out my own CDs and occasionally traveled when asked.” A major passage occurred in 2015: “My youngest kid is now 21. Last year I decided to get a place in New York. I’ve really immersed myself back in the scene. I’ve reconnected with a lot of old friends and made a bunch of new ones.” His list of recent collaborators includes Tony Malaby, Michael Formanek, Matt Mitchell, Ches Smith and Harris Eisenstadt. He says, “It’s been a pretty rich time.”

Roberts has a new sextet and a new 45-minute composition called “G”. He says, “Coming down to New York has inspired me to write music. I worked on

‘G’ at several places I stayed. One was Westbeth, an artists’ coop in the West Village. They have a really nice piano. I brought in food and worked on ‘G’ for three straight days and never left. I had been hearing a clarinet in my head. So I’ve put a group together with Mike McGinnis on clarinet, Brian Drye on trombone, Dana Lyn on violin, Jacob Sacks on piano and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. These people have such strong connections, musically and personally, they have allowed my imagination to soar.”

So far, the only recordings of “G” are excerpts made at a gig and a rehearsal at Ibeam in Brooklyn. When you hear them, it is clear that the piece is a breakthrough for Roberts. It is orchestral in its scope and ambition and startling in its rhythms and harmonies. (Roberts says, “I tend to hear tension harmonies that are not so diatonic. I love the crunch of the chords.”) With only six players (none famous, all accomplished, all working from deep inside this project), Roberts creates an enormous variety of moods and textures. There is indeed the “crunch of the chords” but also subtle voicings beneath pensive, evolving melodies. Dynamic swings are huge, from quietude to wild clamor. There are vivid solo moments from all six players, but it is even more exciting when they improvise together and more exciting still when the whole ensemble returns to Roberts’ form and locks onto it. “G” needs to be an album.

For more information, visit hankrobertsmusic.com. Roberts is at Greenwich House Music School Oct. 15th with his sextet and Barbès Oct. 25th. See Calendar.

Recommended Listening:
Hank Roberts—Black Pastels

(JMT-Winter & Winter, 1987)
Arcado—Eponymous (JMT-Winter & Winter, 1989) Miniature— I Can’t Put My Finger On It

(JMT—Winter & Winter, 1991)
Tim Berne/Hank Roberts—Cause and Reflect

(Level Green, 1998)
Bill Frisell—Richter 858 (Songlines, 2002) Hank Roberts—Everything is Alive

(Winter & Winter, 2010)




It all started when...

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