Jazz cellists are a rare lot, often whittling from their own eclectic stick. That’s certainly true of Hank Roberts, a veteran of gigs with outside-thinking musicians including saxophonist Tim Berne, keyboardist Marilyn Crispell, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Mark Dresser’s Arcado String Trio.
Lately, Roberts has found a point of inspiration in Americana, a direction that sees him working folk and traditional-sounding originals as well as rock and jazz-influenced compositions. Everything Is Alive and Well follows suit, its all Roberts-written program performed with long-time associate Frisell, bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The music ranges across horse-and-buggy rhythms and middle-eastern flavored stewing to backbeat of the sort that goes 4/4 a count better. The themes, often played in a twisted unison with Frisell, are accessible but not necessarily easy.
Roberts’ pizzicato solos dance and leap while carrying their own strange sort of melodicism. In support, he’s constantly employing double stops that make the group sound larger than it is. At times, he sings along with his play, not in the absent-minded way that a bassists grunts to his pluck, or like Keith Jarrett whining along with the piano, but consciously, as if to give the pieces a more natural, more human feel. This is a relaxed, soothing date – music to get comfortable with – not stuffy or tiresome in the least.