180

Carol Robbins: Jazz Play

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Carol Robbins: Jazz Play In the second Dirty Harry movie, Magnum Force, the catchphrase of Clint Eastwood's Inspector Callahan is "A man's got to know his limitations. Over the past decade, harpist Carol Robbins has attempted to defy the preconceived limitations of her instrument. She's employed the harp—surely one of the most unwieldy of instruments—in a jazz setting, despite inherent challenges involved in manipulating its complicated set of pedals on the fly to meet the spontaneous demands of improvisation.

Still, while the harp has its own set of possibilities, it's apparently a relatively limited instrument in terms of dynamics, and so on Jazz Play (Robbins' third release as a leader) she keeps the tone relaxed and elegant. With a sextet featuring some of the West Coast's more capable mainstream players—guitarist Larry Koonse, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Tim Pleasant—Robbins delivers a baker's dozen of tunes that aren't likely to shake anyone's foundations. Still, Jazz Play is an enjoyable if not occasionally innocuous set of straight-ahead jazz that leans towards the Latin side.

If labels like Nine Winds and Cryptogramophone are demonstrating that there's more to West Coast jazz than the cool reputation that's dogged it for more than half a century, Robbins reinforces that reputation as alive and well. Robbins' "Tangier is a samba that's about as heated as things get, and even then, things never exceed a low simmer. Still, with a group of players as seasoned as Robbins' sextet, there's plenty of commitment, focused solo work and subtle interplay. But even when Robbins creates dramatic cascades of sound on her harp, she lacks the power to create a greater sense of animation—or is there? To hear the instrument pushed to greater extremes, one need only look to Finish pianist/harpist Iro Haarla's Northbound (ECM, 2006) and her work with the late Finnish drummer/composer Edward Vesala.

There's no question that within the limited purview Robbins has created, she's a capable improviser, and that's no mean feat. Her ability to work lyrically through changes may not appear particularly special on the surface, but when one considers the pedal work involved, then her ability to pianistically self-accompany during her solo on the gently swinging "Buddy's Bite becomes more impressive. Similarly, on "O Grande Amor —a pared-down quartet with Koonse, Oles and Pleasant—she manages to melodically thread her way through Jobim's change-per-bar writing.

In some ways the ballads work best, because Robbins' lush tonality lines up perfectly with those pieces' graceful demands. Robbins' "Still Light recalls Bill Evans' "Very Early and features focused solos from Oles and Robbins, with Huffsteter's warm flugelhorn carrying the theme.

It may be true that "A man's got to know his limitations. Still, one also has to work at stretching the boundaries of those limitations. While Robbins isn't as adventurous as Haarla, it's clear from Jazz Play that intrinsic design complexities needn't prevent the harp from being a viable improvisational instrument.

Track Listing: Buddy's Bite; O Grande Amour; Still Light; The Meaning of the Blues; Darcy's Waltz; Tangier; Emilia; Don't Look Back; The Cribbler; Skating in Central Park; Sollevare; I'm Old Fashioned; Sambolero.

Personnel: Carol Robbins: harp; Larry Koonse: guitar; Bob Shappard: soprano and tenor saxophones; Steve Hufstetter: trumpet and flugal horn; Derek Oles: bass; Tim Pleasant: drums.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Jazzcats | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles

More Articles

Read Disappeared Behind the Sun CD/LP/Track Review Disappeared Behind the Sun
by Karl Ackermann
Published: March 29, 2017
Read Innate CD/LP/Track Review Innate
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: March 29, 2017
Read The Seasons CD/LP/Track Review The Seasons
by Edward Blanco
Published: March 29, 2017
Read Planets + Persona CD/LP/Track Review Planets + Persona
by Glenn Astarita
Published: March 29, 2017
Read avantNOIR CD/LP/Track Review avantNOIR
by Nicola Negri
Published: March 29, 2017
Read Peace and Love: A Tribute to Will Connell CD/LP/Track Review Peace and Love: A Tribute to Will Connell
by Troy Dostert
Published: March 28, 2017
Read "I Walk Amongst Humans" CD/LP/Track Review I Walk Amongst Humans
by Nicholas F. Mondello
Published: August 3, 2016
Read "Keep Me Singing" CD/LP/Track Review Keep Me Singing
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 8, 2016
Read "Chance Meeting" CD/LP/Track Review Chance Meeting
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 28, 2016
Read "Duo" CD/LP/Track Review Duo
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: June 9, 2016
Read "Jambú" CD/LP/Track Review Jambú
by Joe Gatto
Published: February 13, 2017
Read "The Joy of Being" CD/LP/Track Review The Joy of Being
by Budd Kopman
Published: February 1, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!