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Carol Robbins: Moraga

Edward Blanco By

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The harp is probably one of the least recognized and utilized instruments in jazz yet, the jazz harp is as much a part of the genre as the saxophone, with only a handful of musicians making it their instrument of choice. The late Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, along with Lori Andrews, Columbian Edmar Castaneda and Frenchman Jakez Francois are a few of the exponents of the harp within the jazz realm. There is another prominent member of this list and that happens to be two-time Grammy—nominated harpist Carol Robbins, from Los Angeles. The light-hearted and mellow Moraga, her fourth album as leader, showcases Robbins' unique talents as a jazz harpist.

A veteran musician with credits in television, film and radio, Robbins has performed with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Dianne Reeves, Nina Simone and the legendary Frank Sinatra, but it has been her association with three-time Grammy Award—winning pianist Billy Childs (who also performs here) and his Jazz Chamber Ensemble that has offered a chance to display her appreciable chops on the harp, as well as her talents as a writer. On Moraga, Robbins displays these skills with a fluid performance on an innovative and creative selection of originals and cover tunes. She performs with her own sextet, using guitar, saxophones and clarinet and the support of a first-class rhythm section.

Penned specifically for this album, the title track offers brilliant interchanges between Robbins, and the Childs-led rhythms over a haunting and intricate chordal base. Introduced by free-floating improvised lines from Robbins, "The Sand Rover" moves along briskly and, after brief solos from bassist Darek Oles and the pianist, the leader then turns it over to saxophonist Gary Meek and drummer Gary Novak, who both deliver strong statements. "Three Rings" is one of several warmed-toned pieces featuring the harpist's mellower side, and also captures guitarist of note Larry Koonse, delivering several light solos in accompaniment to Robbins' strumming and Meek's soft clarinet.

Robbins' arrangement of Cole Porter's standard, "Every Time We Say Goodbye," is the highlight of the album. An original balladic piece to begin with, the voice of the harp makes this standard sound even more tender and soothing to the ear. In stark contrast, "Straight Away" features a quick-paced tempo that jumps around like a contemporary bop tune, with scattered solos from the band. Another not-to-be missed composition here is the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic "Caminhos Cruzados," a duet with guitarist Koonse, walking gently into Brazilian territory in charming fashion. Robbins closes the album with another duet, this time with Childs, performing a classical style rendition of Italian composer Nino Rota's "Rotadendron."

Robbins' non-traditional Moraga presents the stylish tender voice of her instrument, in a landscape of creative modern jazz music beautifully designed by one of the premier harpist in jazz today. Well done.

Track Listing: Moraga; The Sand Rover; Three Rings; Dolore; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Hope In The Face Of Despair; Straight Away; Caminhos Cruzados; Rotadendron.

Personnel: Carol Robbins: harp; Billy Childs: piano; Gary Meek: saxophones, clarinet; Larry Koonse: guitar; Darek Oles: bass; Gary Novak: drums.

Title: Moraga | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Jazzcats

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