Taylor Street

Carol Robbins

Jazzcats JCTS-109

Street Date: January 6, 2017

For those of you who are not true devotees of jazz harp, you might be surprised to learn that there is an active community which is dedicated to the genre. All one has to do is check out the web site for the Jazz Harp Foundation to see the list of individuals who are currently playing the instrument, including Carol Robbins. If your interest, assuming you had one, peaked in the 1950s with its two best proponents Dorothy Ashby and Corky Hale, this release by Carol Robbins entitled Taylor Street will be an eye-opener. . . . READ MORE

—Pierre Giroux

 

It’s nice to see the spirit of Dorothy Ashby kept alive and well. The title tracks pays tribute to the Little Italy section of Chicago, so even if this was recorded in LA with top session jazzbos, the heartbeat of Chi remains at the core. Played as an ensemble date more than a look at me solo with background and coloration, the crew works well as one making this simply a sparkling, contemporary jazz date. Solid stuff that works well throughout.
— CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher  ||  http://www.midwestrecord.com/MWR1149.html

 

 

The harp is such a lovely, ethereal instrument. I was eager to hear what Ms. Robbins would bring to this jazz recording featuring her harp. The lineup of iconic West Coast musicians is impressive and I suspected I was in for a treat. I was correct.

 

From the very first arpeggio of harp strings and brush of Gary Novaks drum sticks, “The Flight” took off like an American jet plane down the LAX runway. Billy Childs jumped in with a speedy and beautiful solo. Curtis Taylor gave an eyebrow-raising performance, boldly showing his technique and improvisational skills on trumpet.

 

Carol Robbins is a wonderful composer and her melodic songs appear to inspire creativity, prodding these musicians to bring their best to the studio.There’s been an empty space available ever since Dorothy Jeanne Thompson, (popularily known as Dorothy Ashby), died on April 13 of 1986. Ashby set the standard for jazz harp and Robbins seems to be carrying the torch like an Olympic runner. She’s not as modernistic or Avant Garde as Alice Coltrane, but she’s melodic like Ashby and all nine songs on this CD are well-composed by Ms. Robbins.

 

Below is a sample of her work from a 2012 performance with many of the same players on this upcoming CD release. Listen while you read.

 

Some songs paint a colorful portrait of Robbins’ life story, like “Taylor Street” (one of my favorite cuts) and it is the title track of this CD as well. The composition is describing, with musical notes, the street in Chicago’s ‘Little Italy’ neighborhood where Robbins’ Italian grandparents and mother lived. It features Childs on electric Fender Rhodes piano, with a pumping electric bass solo by Ben Shepherd. “Deep Canyon” was inspired by the tucked away and winding Benedict Canyon Road in Southern California. Many homes of stars and music icons are hidden in those canyon hills.

 

The jazz waltz she’s composed, “Full Circle”, is beautifully written and performed, but I find myself wondering, when is her time to solo and shine? The all-star musicians seem to take over this song and run with it. After all, it is Ms. Robbin’s artistic CD and I would like to have heard more of her on the harp and less jam session. That being said, she is prominent and upfront on her composition” Trekker” where Gary Novak sparkles on drums and propels the band. On “Smooth Ride,” Robbins explores a more contemporary sound and I enjoyed the interplay between the harp and Darek Oles on bass towards the end of this arrangement.

 

“The Chill” reminds me, in an odd sort of way, of Burt Bacharach, whose composing skills I love and admire. I’d have to say it’s rather Pop-ish, until Bob Sheppard enters on saxophone and makes it very clear that this is jazz and only jazz. Here Robbins blends nicely with guitarist Larry Koonse in a jazz-waltz that makes me feel like singing, “Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your make up…”.

 

All in all, this is a well-produced, well-composed and very swinging production that properly introduces us to Carol Robbins and her jazz harp in a most prolific way. The music world has been awaiting someone just like Robbins to bring the jazz harp happily back into musical focus. Release date is scheduled for January 6, 2017.
— Dee Dee McNeil ||  https://musicalmemoirs.wordpress.com/

 

 

In the context of jazz, the harp is a rare instrument indeed and there are proportionately few players in the field. Two exponents of this rare art are Alice Coltrane and the British harpist David Snell whose library composition “International Flight” is a jazz harp classic. A third is Carol Robbins, whose album Taylor Street is the follow-up to her 2012 album, Moraga.

 

It’s important to emphasise that this is an ensemble album, so the musicians are afforded generous amounts of soloing time. Billy Childs, Curtis Taylor and Bob Sheppard all solo on the lively opener “The Flight” and Curtis Taylor leads the melody on the tranquil “Deep Canyon” with Carol Robbins accompanying in a harmonic role and later has a brief harp solo.

 

However, there’s more substantial harp soloing on the bluesy title track and the ballad “Full Circle.” Darek Oles opens “Trekker” solo, culminating in a bass vamp after which point Robbins eloquently solos, even insinuating some intriguingly blues- inflected glissandi.

 

On “The Chill” (a dulcet waltz) there’s sumptuous interplay between harp, guitar and harmon-muted trumpet and later, Bob Sheppard is heard on tenor sax. The pastoral “Grey River” imbues a sense of the meditative quality of the harp, and twinned with clarinet is an irresistible tune. The album concludes with the quietly funky groove of “The Local” where Robbins imparts some more bluesy harp and Sheppard solos robustly on tenor followed by Billy Childs on Rhodes.

 

If there are any criticisms to be made of the album they are only minor ones; occasionally the harp, guitar and Fender Rhodes suffer from perceived sonic ambiguity in that they are marginally similar sounding. The other comment is that Robbins could be higher up in the mix given that the harp is intrinsically a quiet instrument. Also it would be great to hear more of Robbins’s harp solos, but as stated at the outset this is an ensemble affair and a very good one at that.
ROGER FARBEY

 


TUNES

  1. The Flight (Carol Robbins) 5:22
  2. Deep Canyon (Carol Robbins) 4:38
  3. Taylor Street (Carol Robbins) 5:23
  4. Full Circle (Carol Robbins) 6:23
  5. Trekker (Carol Robbins) 8:17
  6. Smooth Ride (Carol Robbins) 6:51
  7. The Chill (Carol Robbins) 5:20
  8. Grey River (Carol Robbins) 4:47
  9. The Local (Carol Robbins) 6:25

PERFORMERS

  • Carol Robbins: harp
  • Billy Childs: piano/Fender Rhodes
  • Bob Sheppard: sax/clarinet
  • Larry Koonse: guitar
  • Curtis Taylor: trumpet
  • Darek Oles: bass
  • Gary Novak: drums
  • Benjamin J. Shepherd: electric bass

Album Tracks

  • Taylor Street

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Albums