Warmly Balancing Mind and Heart

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Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts draws few distinctions between the playful and the professorial. As a pianist, bandleader and composer-arranger he balances erudition against reserves of charisma and wit. His first set at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on Tuesday night was typical: generous in its warmth and strategic in its pacing, with a wealth of serendipitous detail.

Mr. Roberts filled the set largely with material from a new album, “New Orleans Meets Harlem Vol. 1” (J Master), his first in eight years. As on the album, he was leading a version of his longtime working trio, featuring Jason Marsalis on drums. But perhaps because of a substitution in the bass chair — Rodney Jordan fills in this week for Roland Guerin — the group’s rapport felt more reserved than usual. At times the schematic rigor of its arrangements exerted a faintly perceptible drag on the music.

That was the case, to one degree or another, on the set’s three Fats Waller tunes: a decorously restrained “Jitterbug Waltz”; a sluggish “Honeysuckle Rose,” designed as a bass feature; and a version of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” uneasily bracketed by a Latin vamp.

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