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Carol Robbins: Moraga

Hrayr Attarian By

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The harp is certainly rare in jazz and so its role in a traditional combo is not well defined. Alice Coltrane, for example used it as a supplement to her keyboards, while Adele Girard, played it like a boogie woogie piano. Others like Janet Putnam and Betty Glamann were relegated to a rhythm guitar role in bands—very few approached it as a frontline instrument. Of those few, perhaps, the most preeminent representative is Dorothy Ashby who revolutionized the harp, taking it out of afternoon tearooms and into nocturnal jazz clubs.

On Carol Robbins' Moraga—her fourth album as a leader— she follows in Ashby's footsteps by bringing a unique voice not only to the harp but also to the music as a whole.

Intense poetry and lyricism permeate the entire album. The gorgeous original ballad "Three Rings" is a melancholic troubadour song with Gary Meek's clarinet softly whistling the tune over Robbins' complex harmonies that contrast and complement Larry Koonse's flamenco like guitar.

Robbins and Koonse feature also on the intimate Bossa Nova "Caminhos Cruzados" as their strings weave a fragile yet beautiful serenade around the melody. Robbins also duets with pianist Billy Childs on the surreal lullaby "Rotadendron"—a musical fairy tale that ends in a tango and that conjures images of magical beings flying in a starry night's sky. The standard "Every Time We Say Goodbye" transforms into a nocturne with a deep vibe as Robbins' romantic tones mirror Darek Oles' walking bass lines.

Robbins' skills as a composer match her virtuosity as an improviser and interpreter. Her ethereal sound, colored the right amount of blue and peppered by Latin hints, creates a romantic mysticism on the title track. Childs' smooth flowing pianism and Meek's mellifluous saxophone enhance the mood. The up-tempo, boppish "Straight away" is a multifaceted opus where Childs' soulful keys and Robbins' almost Zen like strumming, alternate with Meek's joyous clarinet and Gary Novak's polyrhythmic drumming. The piece ends in an exuberant and angular group play.

This one of a kind record joins the handful of jazz-harp classics, like Ashby's In a Minor Groove and Deborah Henson-Conant's 'Round the Corner in transcending both instrument and genre. It is simply delightful and a stimulating disc that should easily stand the test of time.

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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