There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The latest release from pianist Marcus Roberts plows a wide field of earthy blues. Whereas the style’s 12-bar structure is most often played as rigid support for tiresome solos that can turn insomniacs into narcoleptics, Roberts uses the form as elastic outlines for group improvisation. Because Roberts (a Wynton Marsalis protege) reveres tradition so much, Blues for the New Millennium begins with Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Jungle Blues.” But obeisance doesn’t supersede inventiveness: Roberts turns Johnson’s melancholy tune into a ribald, New Orleans-style stomp, and Morton’s romp has a horn section so hard-swinging that when the rhythm section drops out it’s hardly noticeable. While these arrangements are its highlights, the rest of Millennium showcases Roberts’ spirited originals. The Marsalis cult is so often accused of impeding the development of jazz that many people forget to actually listen to their records. Roberts is pushing the form’s evolution as much as anyone, while staying within the framework of history. Repertory music this is not. Before paying big bucks for his group’s upcoming club gigs, catch Roberts solo at 1 p.m. at Borders, 18th & L Sts. NW. FREE. (202) 466-6999. (Christopher Porter)