The jazz harp will forever be associated with Alice Coltrane first and foremost, but there is also Brandee Younger (her “Wax And Wane” album still resonates big time) and Carol Robbins, whose latest album, “Taylor Street”, is dedicated to her mother Emilia Crostini who grew up on that particular street in Chicago’s Little Italy. (And then there is also Dorothy Ashby of course.)
All nine songs on the album are original tunes and Carol is supported, or rather accompanied, by a brilliant cast of musicians who make sure that this is a collaborative group effort: Billy Childs on piano and Rhodes, 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. And the way both Billy and Bob solo on the rousing opener “The Flight” sets the pace for the rest of the album. It’s a riveting opener which makes way for a much softer, pretty elegant and somewhat melancholy “Deep Canyon” which has a beautiful trumpet lead that blends perfectly with the harp. Carol shows on this track why and how her instrument is way up there as a solo vehicle, taking over the lead and then smoothly letting it picked up again by guitar and trumpet.
The title track features Billy on Rhodes and the resulting combination is pretty striking, albeit much too vague, until Billy plays a hauntingly beautiful solo after a moving electric bass solo. The harp/Rhodes pairing works really well and I actually do not think that both instruments have a similar sound. It is rather that they complement each other in the best possible way. The track is surely the sexiest piece on the album. It’s back to straight-ahead fare for “Full Circle”, another splendidly meandering cut in a mildy swinging, mellow and waltzing mood.
The bass opens “Trekker”, the longest track here and the most open and free which has another exhilarating piano solo by Billy Childs, a driving drum, and muted trumpet and sax towards the end that move it to more exotic territory. Carol goes into more smooth terrain with the appropriately titled “Smooth Ride”, again with those effervescent Rhodes and the harp which – even in this more contemporary-sounding piece – never propels the outcome into trite or banal surroundings, but rather keeping it cool and sturdy, with a nice ending. Another more pop-oriented piece is “The Chill”, a very lyrical piece with a playful sax where Bob reminds me of the latter-day Stan Getz. Carol’s solo here is spot-on and her work with guitar and sax gives the piece a nice little edge.
The album ends with two very distinct pieces: “Grey River”, the slowest cut on the album, is a little beauty in a picturesque and meditative mood and “The Local” finds her back in that great fusion style which boasts a lot of soulful playing by the leader, Bob Sheppard, and Billy Childs who is really kicking it here on the Rhodes. The point where the sax chimes back in for the melody right after his majestic solo is pretty cool.
Carol continues to tour with Billy Childs’ “Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro” with Becca Stevens and Alicia Olatuja.