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REVIEW – ORTNER-ROBERTS DUO
The Time: 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., Sunday, October 16, 2011 The Place: St Matthew Lutheran Church, 318 Chester Ave., Moorestown, NJ
Susanne Ortner-Roberts, clarinet; Tom Roberts, piano, occasional percussion
Tom Roberts has appeared for TSJS in the past, leading his Jelly Roll Morton tribute band – with an all star cast of Vince Giordano, Charlie Caranicas, Orange Kellin et al - back in 2003. Eight years later, he returns with a new concept – the Ortner-Roberts Duo – with clarinetist Suzanne Ortner-Roberts.
The Pittsburgh-based couple have toured Canada, Germany and parts of the United States, performing not only "Hot" jazz, but classical, Klezmer, Calypso, and contemporary works.
For the December 11
th concert, we were treated to a mostly "hot" program – with occasional excursions into the avant garde.
To this reviewer, you cannot describe the performances of the Ortner-Robert duo in a single paragraph. In addition to letter-perfect tributes to Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and Benny Goodman small groups, the couple combined popular songs with a similar theme or connection with traditional spirituals. For example, the opening number, a slow version of Creamer-Layton’s "Dear Old Southland" detoured into a livelier "Blue River," then "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" before returning to "…Southland." Unlikely tunes were married in a single performance, and somehow the merging was successful. It was, as Tom Roberts described, "adventurous."
For me, the show stopper was the duo’s interpretation of Artie Shaw’s "Concerto For Clarinet" with Suzanne Ortner-Roberts taking on the entire Shaw solo (even the concluding high B flat), while Tom Roberts took on Johnny Guarneri, Nick Fatool (with the aid of a tom-tom drum, used throughout for some performances) and the orchestra parts.
Other highlights were the "slightly, un-Jelly Roll" version of Morton’s "Sweet Substitute," with the results a slow, melodic, familiar pop tune. Ortner-Roberts kept the New Orleans qualities intact with a Dodds-like fat sound and growling; Tom Roberts’ piano reminded one of a more modern barrelhouse player, like a Pete Johnson or a Jimmy Yancey. Another tune associated with New Orleans and Sidney Bechet, "Egyptian Fantasy" – was a précis of growling, wailing clarinet, vamping, and "Spanish Tinge" characteristics. Roberts own composition, "Allegheny Rag," took different detours, the first half almost like a classical sonata, while the second half is definitive Ragtime.
Like Rio Clemente’s concert back in October, the Ortner-Roberts duo gave material we’ve heard before new life with their vibrant and unique presentation. – Jim McGann