Tops of Trees was the first album as leader by harpist Carol Emanuel, a mainstay of the downtown New York avant-garde music scene since her early-'80s participation in several of John Zorn's first projects. The ten pieces presented here are each by different composers (all of whom were involved in that same scene); three are solo harp performances, the rest utilize revolving groups ranging from duos to quintets. Among the more successful are Evan Lurie's moody, Spanish-tinged "Travel," master accordionist Guy Klucevsek's lovely "Singing Sands," and Zorn's knotty, harp-abusing "Tasmanian Devil" which allows Emanuel to pull out all stops and perhaps a few strings. Both of the more rock-oriented pieces, Amy Rubin's "Blue Ridge" and Bobby Previte's "How Long Is the Coast of Brittany?" fall flat, the former succumbing to an ECM-ish Muzak-y languor, the latter getting lost in a flurry of bombast. Improvising harpists are a relatively rare breed, however (Zeena Parkins and Rhodri Davies being two other examples), and it's certainly interesting and encouraging to hear players like Emanuel venture into the territory. Though Tops of Trees is a hit and miss affair, it's worth hearing for that reason alone.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick