By Hrayr Attarian
Roberto Magris Suite!
Roberto Magris – Piano, Fender Rhodes
Eric Jacobson – Trumpet
Mark Colby – Tenor saxophone
PJ Aubree Collins – Voice
Eric Hochberg – Bass
Greg Artry – Drums
Italian pianist Roberto Magris is as prolific as he is prodigious a musician. His twenty-some recordings are all uniformly superb and captivating. His style is solidly rooted in the mid twentieth-century tradition with a bop-based sense of swing, plenty of soul, and an explorative edge.
Suite! is Magris’ second release of 2019 and is an ambitious project both in content and size. The nearly two hours of music is divided almost evenly over two CDs. The first is more cerebral and contemplative while the second, emotive and effervescent.
The set opens with a cinematic interpretation of Robert Fripp’s “In the Wake of Poseidon.” Trumpeter Eric Jacobson and saxophonist Mark Colby engage in a musing duet punctuated with silent pauses. Vocalist PJ Aubree Collins recites her own poem with dramatic flair. Magris leads the band in blues-tinged and undulating spontaneous performance, which crashes like waves against the tune’s rhythmic framework.
The title track has a mellifluous and darkly hued theme that flows gracefully over the group’s percolating vamps. Magris improvises with suave agility and dense, resonant phrases. Jacobson and bassist Eric Hochberg take turns in the spotlight with warm, shimmering sounds and intriguing embellishments to the original composition.
On disc two’s ensemble pieces, Magris sticks to electric keyboard—coaxing honeyed tones out of the Fender Rhodes. The cinematic “Perfect Peace” has a laid-back undulating, cadence that buoys Collins’ evocative recitation. Hochberg solos with lyricism that bleeds into his elegant exchanges with Magris and drummer Greg Artry.
The ebullient “Chicago Nights” opens with lightly swinging and Latin-tinged refrains. Jacobson embellishes the main melody with warmth and vibrancy while Colby follows with his muscular and serpentine tenor. Magris’ keys simmer as he extemporizes with a sophistication and measured abandon.
Interspersed among these are unaccompanied tunes that showcase Magris’ virtuosity on the acoustic piano. His multilayered lines on the “End of a Summertime” weave a dense sonic tapestry around Gershwin’s motifs, and his melancholic take on John Lennon’s “Imagine” concludes on a hopeful note.
Suite! is, perhaps, Magris’ magnum opus. It is certainly his most mature as it demonstrates his brilliant pianism and his astute leadership. Here, Magris has enhanced his signature superb musicianship with a much-needed social consciousness as well as an uplifting spirituality. All this makes this double album intriguing and enjoyable—and one that should have a wide appeal.