April 6, 2016
Melody is the key to I Have Known Mountains, the latest release from guitarist Henry Robinett. He fronts a sextet featuring Joe Gilman on piano, Tom Brechtlein on drums, Joshua Thurston-Milgrom on acoustic bass, Rob Lemas on electric bass, and Dominic Edward Garcia on congas and timbales. On this album, Robinett works through a program of a dozen tunes, 11 original compositions and one final piece written by Jim Pepper—over an hour and 15 minutes of fine listening.
Each song, Robinett points out, is “a short, personal story. A snippet of life.” For some, his song notes actually provide the essence of the story. “Passing Open Windows,” he explains, is “inspired by a vision of a young princess and a soldier, Argentinian perhaps.” They pass each other on opposite sides of an upstairs window each day; “they watch each other and almost dance between windows but never meet.”
The dance and their yearning is embodied in the music. “American Rivers,” on the other hand, paints a vision of what the country was like before it was settled by the early pioneers. It speaks to the “hope and promise of a new country.” The album’s title song is about the personal struggles people need to overcome, the mountains individuals have to climb.
Other cuts emphasize the musician’s personal investment in the music – an investment that is manifested in its melodic beauty – in that they are dedicated to friends and loved ones. “Change” goes out to his wife, “My Amigo” and “What If I Go Sailing?” go out to friends who have passed away, and “Zebra Crossing” is for Chick Corea.
“Witchi-Tai-To,” the Jim Pepper song which closes the album, adds an intriguing vocal element to the mix, and in some sense seems something of an outlier. Pepper is perhaps best known for combining Native American themes with jazz. Robinett says he thought the song would provide a “fitting” close to the album, but he doesn’t explain why. Outlier or not, the tune adds an interesting and almost exotic element to what is a very fine album of hugely listenable jazz.