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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hank Roberts - Everything is Alive (Winter & Winter, 2011) ****

There is no argument in my mind that the Bill Frisell quartet(s) that recorded albums like "Where in the World" and "Look out for Hope" were on to something special. Mixing jazz, rock and Americana, they created a lasting and captivating blend of music, and it seems that some of the musicians who worked in these groups revisit the style in some fashion - often with Frisell's help. Kermit Driscoll's recent "Reveille" touched on it and "Everything is Alive" from cellist Hank Roberts certainly embraces it while putting its own stamp upon it.

While I have enjoyed other recent collaborations between Roberts and Frisell, such as Frisell's "Disfarmer" and "Signs of Life", I'm finding the intensity on the cellist's new album quite satisfying. Joining Roberts here is drummer Kenny Wollesen, bassist Jerome Harris and the aforementioned Frisell on guitar. Throughout the album, Roberts' compositions have intricate passages, big loping rhythms and streaks of humor mixed in with serious compositions.

The first song, "Crew Cut" is a great romp replete with a deep groove and power chords. Roberts' cello cuts through with legato melody and Frisell contributes off an energetic, dare I say, rocking solo. Following this is the pastorally spartan Cayuga, where Robert's builds up a folkish melody, full of space and longing. A few more cuts in is 'Joker's Ace', featuring a sound scape that build slowly with scattered percussion and eventually morphing into an askew hoe-down. The next tune 'Open Gate' features the back-beat loping feel, some folk-like motifs, and a devastatingly good solo from Roberts. 'Necklace' is atmospheric and delicate, with Wollesen providing accents and washes in lieu of steady rhythm.

Frisell and Robert's earlier work is simply a touchstone. Here, Roberts compositions with their masterful folklike whimsy breath and come to life and throughout, the group's interplay really shines. Frisell's guitar is both searing and sweet, Robert's colors the proceedings with well chosen dissonance, and Harris and Wollesen keep the songs moving. This album is fast becoming a frequent play on my iPod.