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Marcus Roberts Heads Back to the Shed

In 2008, pianist Marcus Roberts performed the music of his 1990 LP, “Deep in the Shed,” at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room. This prompted Ben Ratliff to comment as follows in his finely detailed New York Times review:

At the Allen Room the album was performed on Friday and Saturday, twice each night, in separate seatings. That allowed about 2,000 people to hear its music in total. But for now its rediscovery will be limited. The album is out of print, which is strange; it’s not a record that should be shrugged off.

Roberts certainly hasn’t shrugged it off. If fact, he’s recorded the whole thing again, differently, more than 20 years later, for release November 13 as “Deep in the Shed: A Blues Suite,” on his own J-Master label. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who played on the original version, under the pseudonym “E. Dankworth,” is absent this time. Roberts began playing with Marsalis in 1985, and was still a member of his band when he made the 1990 recording.

I’ve not yet listened to the new music (more to come there). But I’m intrigued enough to dig in. The original recording did more than simply display fluency with and mastery of blues form; Roberts played with these elements in subtle but fascinating ways. On the new version, Roberts reorders his six blues-based compositions, with a new band this time: It includes another Marsalis, drummer Jason, who has played with Roberts since 1994. He also closes with a new piece.

He introduces the new version in his liner notes this way:

I originally released Deep in the Shed on RCA Novus in 1990— it was my second album. It received a lot of good reviews and it has always been popular so when I decided to re-record it a couple years ago, a lot of people wondered why.

There are many examples of artists revisiting and updating their works. Duke Ellington first recorded Black, Brown and Beige in 1943; he re-recorded it with Mahalia Jackson in 1958 and did another version ten years later. Stravinsky first wrote Petrushka in 1910-1911 and then revised it with different instrumentation in 1947. So I think that I am in good company in revisiting this composition 20 years later. And a lot has changed since then that informs this new recording.

And he goes on to write the following:

This new recording, re-titled Deep in the Shed: A Blues Suite, has a different track order than the original recording. The current track sequence is now how I imagined it when I first composed the music, with the exception of a final track “Athanatos Rythmos” that I have added to this new recording.

This makes me wonder what, or who, prompted Roberts to deviate from that conception in the first place.

You can hear the opening track, “The Governor,” here. I’m eager to hear your thoughts as I formulate mine.

Image: Marcus Roberts/John Douglas

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