Even in a parallel universe where jazz cellists are as common as tenor madmen and trumpet-blowing boppers, Hank Roberts would be utterly unique. Over his nearly four-decade career, Roberts has forged a compelling original voice on the cello, encompassing abstract improvisation and soulful folk melodies, intricate new-music compositions and vigorous rock songs.
Roberts’ latest CD, Everything Is Alive, features three long-time compatriots: guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Jerome Harris, and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The 2012 Winter & Winter release continues the cellist’s relationship with producer Stefan Winter, which stretches back through the bulk of Robert’s discography. The album’s ten original compositions speak with a direct voice inflected with roots, rock and funk accents.
Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Roberts studied at Berklee and made his name on the legendary Downtown scene in 1980s New York. Faced with a dearth of mentors or peers on his instrument, he carved his own path through that fertile ground alongside such frequent collaborators as Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, Marc Ribot and John Zorn, finding a second home at the famed Knitting Factory. Like those fellow innovators, Roberts is equally at home in grand concert halls or dingy rock clubs, covering a wide swath of modern music.
The list of names with whom Roberts has shared stages or studios is staggering, including members of U2, Gavin Friday, Sting, Joel Grey, David Sanborn, Lydia Lunch, Mamadou Diabate, Andy Summers, Pat Metheny, Flo and Eddie, Gary Burton, Shane McGowan, and Julius Hemphill.