Don’t dismiss harpist Carol Robbins because of her instrument. My immediate reaction is to state that this isn’t your typical jazz harp album, but the relative rarity that is the jazz harp album precludes use of the word ‘typical.’ Moraga has got some ballads and it’s got some swing, and Robbins coaxes her harp into seamlessly blending its innate elegance with the allurement of the former and the boisterousness of the latter. This album keeps both feet in conventional jazz far more than another recent jazz harp release, Iro Haarlas’s Vespers, which focused more on the harp’s tendency to soar like mad, or say, another harp contemporary, Rachel Gladwin, who, lately, has been channeling the sound of Alice Coltrane’s spiritual jazz with Nat Birchall’s outfit.
The thing of it is, the use of harp in jazz is so infrequent, that it’s easy to make assumptions based on the singular voices of those rare harpists who do get into the spotlight. And often, the harp position in the ensemble is sufficiently compelling as to impose its will upon the other instruments. Robbins displays that this doesn’t have to be the case.
Your album personnel: Carol Robbins (harp), Billy Childs (piano), Gary Meek (saxophones, clarinet), Larry Koonse (guitar), Darek Oles (bass), and Gary Novak (drums).
For instance, on the sublime “Three Rings,” clarinet is the bird singing into the night, and harp’s interaction with it is to ruffle its feathers with a soft breeze and carry its voice out into the darkness. But on album opener (and title-track) “Moraga,” Robbins play it straight, fitting expertly into place with the rest of the ensemble and keeping the jazz bounce going even during her solo. No different on the up-tempo “Straight Away,” where Robbins tosses out a few sheets of revved up elegance, but shows a similar comfort riffing with the rhythm section. The album ends with the mysterious “Rotadendron,” a song that is as much soothing as haunting, and which features interplay between harp and piano that ends this solid album on a very high note.
Forget preconceptions of what a harp jazz album should sound like. This is a little gem of a straight-ahead jazz album.
Released on the Jazzcats Productions label.
Jazz from the L.A. scene.