For a few years now, the Brass-A-Holics have been one of my favorite New Orleans bands, playing that unique GoGoBrass Funk style.  Robin Clabby has been 1/3rd of the front line of the high-energy 8 piece funk outfit since 2010. He’s recorded a lot of band albums and been on other people’s records over the years but never found the time to do his own album. Robin probably averaged a gig a day for the last decade or so and was quite happy just playing live for a long time. When his wife completed her PHD a year and a half ago and got a job teaching at Princeton, Robin realized he’d be leaving New Orleans (at least as a full time resident) and figured it was time to collect his thoughts on wax while he still had easy access to musician and engineer friends down there. This album is really meant to be a snapshot of where Clabby is now and what got him there which is what the title is about.

The title spelling rEvolve is intended to stir thoughts of cyclical evolution. Robin collected a bunch of favorite compositions and did them all in more or less the same way you would hear him do them at a live show with a 5 or 6 piece band. Robin says, “I wanted it to be a pretty quick and honest representation. All of the main performances were captured in a day at Nic of Time studio in New Orleans. Overdubs and edits happened in New Orleans, France, New Jersey and Colorado when I had time over the past year. I’m excited about the way it came out, both because I think it stands alone pretty well and also because it marks a jumping off point for leading my own bands again- something I haven’t really had time to do for a while.”

With his solo release rEvolve, Clabby’s smaller group playing gets a chance to shine. The tunes are a mix of new material, unrecorded live show staples, and a couple of previously released songs reimagined for a smaller group format.  A solid funk thread connects all eight tunes on the record, but the vibe varies from the head nodding jazz-funk fusion of tunes like rEvolve and ReRoute, to feel good cuts like Elevate and Gratitude or the dreamlike PDX. The two vocal tunes, One Step at a Time and Down In New Orleans provide some nice contrast to the instrumentals. Down In New Orleans in particular could easily become a new Mardi Gras favorite.

rEvolve features longtime collaborators Chris Alford (Robert Walters), Keiko Komaki (Playing for Change) Bill Richards and Erik Golson (Colin Lake Band), and fellow Brass-A-Holics, Jay Winfield and Dwayne Muhammad. Alex MacDonald Harris (Joe Sample, the Daywalkers) contributes washboard to Down In New Orleans and Lexie Signor (Adele, Keith Urban) adds trumpet to Gratitude. The album was recorded by Reggie Nicholas (PJ Morton, Brass-A-Holics) and mixed and mastered by Doug Krebs (Color Red, Doug Krebs Mastering). rEvolve is available at robinclabby.com and on all streaming platforms. You can listen to the album right here while you read my take on it.

Track Rundown

  1. ReThink – Nice guitar intro with Robin’s rich tone tenor coming in for the head.  There’s a terrific B3 solo coming in early with Robin coming back for a flowing restatement of the head. Then a George Benson-like guitar solo comes back before the next head section.  It’s definitely an easy way to ease into this very cool album before the closeout.
  2. One Step At A Time – This one kicks off with some nice vocal work by Robin – it has somewhat of a Revivalists feel, although Robin’s voice is smooth, not as raspy as David Shaw.  He shows off his vox range from some deep to high notes along the way.
  3. ReRoute – This one has a smooth intro before Robin breaks into a section with a latin flair, then giving way to a sweet guitar solo accompanied by some excellent bass work along the way. The middle highlight is a bright piano solo great for that cruising down the highway feeling. Robin then picks up the pace a bit and lets it out a bit with some nice wailing runs. The closeout is definitely bouncing with a sharp stop.
  4. rEvolve – rEvolve starts out with a an ultra-funky riff before Robin kicks into a smooth flowing groove.  The tune sports a real catchy refrain.  Mid-song Chris Alford rips a nice guitar solo before the refrain comes back. Three-quarters through Bill Richards takes a nice bass solo.
  5. Down in New Orleans – This tune is another Robin vocal lead and is an instant NOLA classic. Always love some groovin’ bari sax and Clabby plays that to full effect here.  One could envision this original tune being sung by any number of New Orleans’ icons including Dr. John or John Boutté.  Again, Chris Alford takes a soulful turn on the bridge. ‘Everybody Funky Down in New Orleans’ hits the mark on all counts.
  6. Elevate – This tune Robin penned is a Brass-A-Holics staple and he says, “this version is much closer to the way it was originally written.” It’s got a smooth, yet funky sax line thoughout. Nice solos follow from Jay Winfield (Brass-A-Holics) on keys and Chris Alford on guitar. I always appreciate Robin’s rich tone on tenor which closes out the song.
  7. Gratitude – Gratitude opens with a raucous horn section banging it out it continues with Robin on tenor over the top of the horns.  Jay takes a turn on an organ interlude before the horns come back full force.  It’s really a great balance between the organ and horns before Chris takes a bluesy solo three quarters through before Robin comes back with another nice tenor solo. This one’s a real heater.
  8. PDX – This slower tempo ballad strikes a reflective tone and indeed that was Robin’s intent here.  As he puts it, “I spent several years living in Portland OR before I moved to New Orleans. This cut is a nod to those years and sounds the way that Portland feels to me.” Chris really strokes it as well with a nice guitar bridge before Robin comes back with the mellow melody.

Robin on rEvolve

rEvolve – Without being too corny, after the birth of my son I was thinking a lot about cyclical life patterns and creative and emotional evolution. This track is actually something that came to me in a dream on a family vacation. I rolled out of bed and wrote down the melody before falling back to sleep and then didn’t touch the tune until it was time to make this record. This is the one tune on the record that had never actually been played live before I recorded it.

ReThink and ReRoute – I had both of these tunes hanging around for a while as staples of my live sets with Brass-a-holics and with my own bands but never really had names for them. When the name and concept for rEvolve came to me, the names for these just snapped into focus.

One Step At A Time – I think we’ve all been there. Life gets heavy. Hang in there and it gets better.

Down In New Orleans – If you’ve been there, you get it!

Elevate – This has been a staple of the Brass-A-Holics live set for a while, but this version is much closer to the way it was originally written. It feels to me like emerging from a dark confusing place into a wide-open sunlit space. Hopefully it conveys positivity and soulfulness. 

Gratitude – It’s a little churchy — about feeling grateful to whatever it is that you think makes the world go round:) I think there is a universal love and positivity that we all feel that transcends concepts of religion and spirituality and connects everyone no matter what their beliefs or non-beliefs. 

Personnel:

  1. ReThink:  Tenor Sax- Robin Clabby, Organ- Keiko Komaki, Guitar- Chris Alford, Keyboards- Jay Winfield, Bass- Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Percussion- Dwayne Muhammad, Reggie Nicholas
  2. One Step At A Time:  Vocals- Robin Clabby, Guitar- Chris Alford, Organ and Keyboards- Jay Winfield, Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Additional Guitar and programming- Robin Clabby
  3. ReRoute:  Tenor Sax- Robin Clabby, Guitar- Chris Alford, Keyboards- Jay Winfield, Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Percussion- Dwayne Muhammad, Additional programming- Robin Clabby
  4. rEvolve:  Tenor Sax- Robin Clabby, Guitar- Chris Alford, Keyboards- Jay Winfield, Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Percussion- Dwayne Muhammad, Additional programming- Robin Clabby
  5. Down In New Orleans:  Bari Sax and Vocals- Robin Clabby, Guitar- Chris Alford, Organ and Keyboards- Jay Winfield, Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Washboard- Alex Macdonald Harris
  6. Elevate:  Tenor Sax- Robin Clabby, Guitar- Chris Alford, Keyboards- Jay Winfield, Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Percussion- Dwayne Muhammad, Clavinet/Additional programming- Robin Clabby
  7. Gratitude:  Alto, Tenor and Bari Sax- Robin Clabby, Trumpets- Lexie Signor, Guitar- Chris Alford, Organ- Keiko Komaki, Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Percussion- Reggie Nicholas
  8. PDX:  Soprano and Tenor Sax- Robin Clabby, Guitar- Chris Alford, Keyboards- Jay Winfield, Bass- Bill Richards, Drums- Erik Golson, Percussion- Additional Guitar and programming- Robin Clabby