Alina Bzhezhinska presents, ‘Alina Hip Harp’, 17 January 2020

Photo Pete Woodman

Alina Bzhezhinska – harp
Mikele Montolli – Electric Bass
Adam Teixeira – Drums
Joel Prime – drums
Is it possible to review a concert by a harpist without deploying the term, ‘Glissando’? Apparently not. So having dispensed with the inevitable, we can now move to the unexpected and delightful.

The harp is not unknown in jazz—Alina herself played tunes by Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane—but it is still something of an exotic. But on the evidence of this fine performance, there is no musical reason why that should be so. Certainly there was no one in the enthusiastic audience to police the boundaries of jazz. Everyone in attendance seemed to appreciate that the jazz tradition is what we the living make of it; that renewal and refreshment are every bit as important as reverence.

In fact, the biggest surprise of the evening is how well suited Alina’s harp mastery was to music that swings, that extends beyond notated boundaries, that is alert and responsive to unexpected openings, that reveres the past but with an eye to the far horizon, that delights and surprises—in other words, everything conveyed by the word ‘jazz.’ But what of the musical context? Two drummers plus electric bass promised music with edge and propulsion as well as rhythmic complexity. But although the numbers were percussion-rich, they weren’t percussion-heavy; and the strength of the rhythm section did not overwhelm what many might have assumed was a harp’s unwavering delicacy. One of the pleasures that ran throughout both sets was the way in which Alina’s melodic lines could run in front of roiling percussion, or sail above it, both of which gave the music a richness and complexity not normally expected from any quartet.

Of course, in the right hands, a harp is capable of dizzying melodic and rhythmic
pattern-shifting—a quality which gave extra purchase to the sensitive and
inventive drumming and percussion of Adam Teixeira and Joel Prime. Mikele Montolli played electric bass, which contributed significantly to both the tonal quality and the overall musical character of the band; and his playing was deft, inventive and entirely supportive—and that includes his solos.

Anyone expecting unending waves of musical gossamer was in for a surprise—not because there was anything outlandish or noisome, but because Alina was able to conjure musical worlds-within-worlds: echoes of blues; perhaps a hint of Debussy; what sounded for all the world like a koto; the sprightly uprightness of Renaissance court music….and yet, jazz. Her relatively brief solo turns were a delight, such that they didn’t need a name or a label.

Musical substance, novelty of the kind we ought to hear more often and charm: who could ask for more? The audience at Wakefield Jazz certainly did.

‘What’s on Next? >


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