By DAN BILAWSKY
This fifth release from guitarist Henry Robinett has more than its fair share of hook-laden numbers, deep rivers, tributes, and positive musical offerings. It’s a highly personal statement that serves as a journal of sorts, with Robinett stepping forward to musically reflect on a variety of topics and people near and dear to his heart.
The dozen pieces that appear here make it plainly clear that Robinett is a man who places a high premium on clarity. His well-thought-out messages, be they focused on tragedy, love, or life’s winding road(s), manage to appeal to the ear. If jazz has an accessibility problem, nobody bothered to tell Henry Robinett.
This first two numbers on the program—the chipper “Change,” dedicated to Robinett’s wife, and the upbeat “Crush”—are of a piece. Both are catchy, built on relatively simple foundations and full of instantly welcoming ideas. But they don’t provide a complete picture of who Robinett really is. The listener needs to see this one through in order to fully appreciate his talents. One only need encounter the life-affirming “Sprung,” for example, to realize that there’s more to this guitarist-composer than meets the eye early on. A delightfully hip unison line—a signature for the song—sets things in motion, drummer Tom Brechtlein brilliantly balances low dynamics and high intensity with his driving ride, and Robinett and pianist Joe Gilman each deliver compelling solos that manage to be both fluid and feisty. Pair that one with “Zebra Crossing,” a charged straight-ahead offering dedicated to the great Chick Corea, and you start to realize that there’s some real meat on the bones here.
Other album highlights include the tropically-infused “What If I Go Sailing?,” the seductive “Passing Open Windows,” the triumphant “American Rivers,” and the lone cover on the program—a vocals-enhanced, album-ending take on Jim Pepper’s “Witchi-Tai-To.” Robinett walks the fine line that separates the concepts of leader-driven centrality and self-indulgence on this date, rarely crossing into the latter territory, and he has much to say when he takes to the spotlight. He may be a man who’s known mountains in his life, but he’s managed to scale them to reach the summit(s).
Track Listing: Change; Crush; My Amigo; I Have Known Mountains; Maybe Tuesday; What If I Go Sailing; Passing Open Windows; Sprung; When Love Returns; Zebra Crossing; American Rivers; Witchi-Tai-To.
Personnel: Henry Robinett: guitar, vocals; Joe Gilman: piano; Tom Brechtlein: drums; Joshua Thurston-Milgrom: acoustic bass; Rob Lemas: electric bass; Dominic Edward Garcia: congas, timbales.