Carol Robbins studied with Dorothy Ashby, one of the pioneers in establishing the harp as a suitable and beneficial instrument in the jazz world through 10 albums as a leader during her career. Robbins has continued the mission with five releases of her own to date, on which she has made a significant impact as a soloist, in ensemble passages, and in a supporting role. Returning from Robbins’ equally laudable 2012 CD, Moraga, are pianist-keyboardist Billy Childs, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Gary Novak, along with newcomers Bob Sheppard on sax and clarinet, Curtis Taylor on trumpet, and Ben Shepherd on electric bass. Robbins, Sheppard, and Koonse are also members of Childs’ much praised Jazz Chamber Ensemble, and these connections may help explain the singular cohesiveness and incisive flow produced by the assembled group on the harpist’s nine original compositions. These nine diverse pieces, plus the five on Moraga, make the case for Robbins as a talented composer of melodically and harmonically distinctive tunes.
Robbins’ glissando and plucked textures precede the assertive theme of “The Flight” from Sheppard’s soprano sax and Taylor’s trumpet. Childs’ fleet piano solo, a pulsating one from Sheppard, and the extended lines of Taylor’s, announce their committed intentions going forward from this heated opening track. “Deep Canyon” was inspired by the lush hills of California’s Benedict Canyon, with Taylor’s fully rounded tone enhancing the tenderly meditative melody. Robbins’ filigreed improv and Koonse’s succinct but striking follow-up beautifully elaborate upon this memorable ballad. The title track and CD as a whole are dedicated to Robbins’ mother, who was born on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy. A soothing pulse persists, as Robbins and Taylor deliver the moody theme. Shepherd’s warmly deep-toned electric bass and Childs’ Fender Rhodes contribute lyrically expressive statements, after which Robbins proves sublimely enchanting prior to the reprise.
Lustrous harmonies encompass the theme of “Full Circle,” taken by tenor and trumpet. Robbins’ solo is lucidly compelling, with Koonse, Taylor, and Childs then melodically vibrant in succession. The recap and out chorus confirm this notable tune’s staying power. For “Trekker,” Oles’ solemn unaccompanied intro evolves into his desert-trekking oscillations and intertwining lines from soprano, trumpet, and harp, all before the brooding theme ensues. Robbins’ urgent, multi-textured invention leads to Childs’ similarly driven romp, and his vamp allows drummer Novak to burst forth. A closing contrapuntal interlude finds Sheppard and Taylor at their interactive best. Fender Rhodes and harp, and then tenor and trumpet on the endearingly wistful ballad theme of “Smooth Ride” set a floating, dreamy aura, with Childs and Robbins each delicately perusing the melody’s contours in their improvs.
Tenor and muted trumpet, and next guitar on the bridge, convey Robbins’ delightful jazz waltz, “The Chill,” with Sheppard’s serpentine, involving solo, Robbins’ finely articulated turn, and Koonse’s buoyantly swinging effort all doing much justice to yet another charming composition. “Grey River” finds guitar and piano creating the ambiance for the moving ballad, as Sheppard’s mournful clarinet covers the theme. Robbins’ lacy and touching exposition is the only individual offering. “The Local” is the funky R & B change-of-pace closer, with tenor and trumpet on the perky, undulating head. Robbins here shows that the harp can get down-to-earth and bluesy, and Sheppard succeeds her with a brawny, beseeching declaration of his own. Finally, Childs on Fender Rhodes dazzles with his quicksilver and ringing expansive runs.
Source: amazon.com reviews
Reviewer: Scott Albin
Top Reviewer Ranking: 11,282
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