Hank Roberts — Cello and Voice
Jacob Sacks — Piano
Vinnie Sperrazza — Drums
I had what I thought was a great “producer idea” when we were thinking of the title for this record. With its vague landscape cover, its Americana-turned-sideways musical aesthetic, the provenance of its leader and the fact that it covered the title song, the title seemed a sure fit. I also loved the sly bait and switch of a simple record title and the intricacies of the music held within. “Hey Hank, I’ve got an idea on the title for the record, how about…Indiana.” Hank paused for a minute and said something along the lines of “I’ll give it some thought.” Later, he sent me the title Congeries of Ethereal Phenomena. We went with Hank’s title.
Hank originally hails from Indiana, and he possesses the graciousness, kindness and quick smile that people associate with the Midwest. But as you can hear on this record, Hank is also a visionary with a unique, uncompromising point of view. There’s an unbridled, take no prisoners, imagination and inventiveness at work here. I keep finding new corners of this music, and I find that fragments of these tunes fill my head when I’m least expecting it. I especially love the attention, care, and creativity that Jacob Sacks and Vinnie Sperrazza bring to this music. This is very “complicated” music, played as if it were simple. That’s a hard thing to do. Listen to the way Vinnie starts keeping time on “Evidence”—it’s just a hint and it’s skittering all over the kit, but it feels as simple as a tapping foot and it swings. On the same tune, check out the beginning of Jacob’s solo, when Hank starts to take over the bassline. There’s no step back into something safe or established, just the relentless engagement with the material. This is how you should cover Monk. Jettison all affect and lean hard into the curves.
When I connected with Hank about recording for Newvelle, I talked with him about how I’m drawn to music that I call “melodically driven.” Music that speaks clearly and lyrically. When listening back after the first day, Hank had a little half-smile on his face. He leaned over to me and said, “You see, it’s melodically driven. I’ve just got a couple of melodies going on at the same time…”.
It’s become cliché to discuss how a certain music or artists transcend genre. “Is this Jazz?” has long since become the most overplayed card in the critic’s deck. But, more impressive than Hank’s nonchalant traversing of musical genres, is that the integrity of his music is strong enough to contain contrary musical ideas at the same time. Maybe it’s simplest to say that this record, like all great art, is neither commentary nor reflection. It’s easier to describe what it isn’t than what it is, but essentially, it speaks for itself no matter what we titled it.