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Carol Robbins: Jazz Play

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Carol Robbins is very likely the number one harpist on the scene. (Reinforcing that ranking, she studied with the previous generation’s top jazz-oriented harpist, Dorothy Ashby.) But the mere thought of harp in solo or comping modes is still daunting and requires that you keep your ears wide open.

There are many beautiful moments here. In deference to the harp, guitarist Larry Koonse plays a key role, underscoring Robbins’ comping or engaging her in conversation, as on Jobim’s “O Grande Amor,” Bonfa’s “Sambolero” and Robbins’ “Darcy’s Waltz.” There’s no guitar on Robbins’ gorgeous ballad, “Still Light,” allowing the warm flugelhorn of Steve Huffsteter to complement the rich chordal backing of the harp, the same kind of collaboration that exists on “Darcy’s Waltz” and “Emilia.” Bassist Darek Oles is the focal point on another Robbins original, “The Cribbler,” in which his opening riff becomes an obbligato to the unison melody by Sheppard and Huffsteter. Robbins remains in the background like an 18th-century harpsichordist providing continuo support. She briefly explores single-string improvising, as she does on “I’m Old-Fashioned,” but that sums up the structure of the album: plenty of light, not enough heat.