May 1, 2017
It is such a pleasure to hear Carol Robbins’ newest disc, Taylor Street, named for the Little Italy location where her mother grew up. It is truly an “ensemble” album, and, while we hear plenty of Robbins’ insouciant soloing, there is a jamming atmosphere where everyone has a chance to come up front and take part in the conversation.
This is all by design, as Robbins teamed up with keyboardist/composer/Grammy-winner Billy Childs, the creator of a jazz-chamber ensemble that synthesizes classical styles from Europe with that of our own American jazz. Even though every track is a Carol Robbins original, she shares the limelight with her stunning musical team including Childs on keyboards, Bob Sheppard on sax, Curtis Taylor on trumpet, Larry Koonse on guitar, Darek Oles on bass, Gary Novak on drums, and Ben Shepherd on electric bass.
The opening track “The Flight” begins with harp, Robbins takes us by hand into a kind of journey of discovery, not just of groove, improvisation, and ensemble but of color possibilities. From dreamy harp, to dusky sax, to scampering keyboards, the music almost imperceptibly takes on more of a drive to the rapid-fire finish.
One of my favorites is “Trekker” beginning with a contemplative bass solo, before he sets a funky and driving ostinato. The ensemble emerges slowly one by one finally handing things to Robbins, who commands the room even amidst the energized atmosphere, building and building her articulated passages until, like a bird taking flight, she spreads her wings of glissandi, alighting on the piano for Childs to take over. The group is tight but generous, the solos just right.
The harp and guitar set the rhythm and bright, distinct color for “Chill,” a lazy waltz that gives plenty of space for trumpet and sax to offer up loose improvs. When Robbins finally leaves the groove for her solo, she never lets us forget she has two hands and the off beats find their way in. It’s only a sleight of hand that fools the ear into believing the guitar and harp are one. There are no gaps when the two pass things back and forth.
“Grey River” will leave you breathless in its Satie-esque simplicity. The magic is in the narrow cast of hues of harp, piano and clarinet, like walking into a Monet. This contrasts with the laid-back cool of the title track, which gives Robbins a chance to take it slow as she wanders down her mother’s street, or perhaps more accurately her mother’s street of her dreams.