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Art-Jazz Meets Rural, Folk Sounds

Artist: Robin Holcomb.

History: Georgia-born Holcomb grew up in California in a musical home. She started playing piano at age 4, and later studied with jazz pianist Art Lande. Taking a break from college, she worked as a sharecropper for a couple of years in North Carolina, then returned to school at UC Santa Cruz, studying Javanese gamelan music. Marrying avant-jazz-rock pianist Wayne Horvitz in 1979, Holcomb moved to New York. There the couple founded the New York Composers Orchestra and opened their own performance space, Studio Henry. The pair moved to Seattle in 1980, where Holcomb concentrated on composition. Two mostly instrumental albums, “Todos Santos” and “Larks, They Crazy,” were released in Europe by the Sound Aspects label in 1988 and 1989. But also in 1989 she ventured into songwriting with “Angels at the Four Corners,” a theatrical song-cycle based on her sharecropping experience that was performed in New York and Minneapolis. Several of the songs were reworked for “Robin Holcomb,” the Horvitz-produced album released in late-1990 by Elektra Musician.

Sound: The “Angels at the Four Corners” songs give “Robin Holcomb” a rural flavor, but it shares space with urban art-jazz and folk styles in a unique blend--wistful in tone and angular in melody like Joni Mitchell and Mary Margaret O’Hara. Stark arrangements highlight Holcomb’s piano, Horvitz’s electronic keyboards and versatile Bill Frisell’s sometimes jarring guitar, while Holcomb’s quavery voice carries evocative, poetic lyrics along jagged melodies. The combination gives the songs a charcoal sketch quality--dreamy abstractions of both childhood innocence and adult yearning.

Show: Monday at the Roxy.

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