Alina Bzhezhinska – Inspiration
(Ubuntu UBU 0008. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Challenge yourself to come up with the names of some jazz harpists. I only managed Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby before giving up. Well, now I know of three. Ukranian-born Alina Bzhezhinska bestrides both classical and jazz traditions. Last November she appeared in a tribute to Alice Coltrane (or Swamini Turiyasangitananda, as the latter renamed herself) as part of the London Jazz Festival.
Joining Alina Bzhezhinska on this new album are Tony Kofi on soprano and tenor saxophones, Larry Bartley on bass and Joel Prime on drums. Five of the ten tracks are by either Alice or John Coltrane, the rest by Bzhezhinska herself.
Inspiration is a grower, and you have to listen to it properly rather than let it burble away in the background while you busy yourself with domestic activities. The natural register of the harp is rather otherworldly, its ripples reminiscent of movie dream sequences. Combine them with Kofi’s piping modal lines and the rhythm section’s gently relentless grooves, and you have the perfect recipe for an out-of-body experience.
The harp certainly lends itself to this idea: all of Alice’s work tended towards the spiritual, until by the end of her life the music consisted mainly of devotional chants. Dorothy Ashby was strongly influenced by the sufi tradition, on such albums as The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby. Bzhezhinska reveals her chief influence from the off: the first three tracks are all by Alice Coltrane, beginning with Wisdom Eye, a short, gorgeous piece for solo harp, followed by Blue Nile and Los Caballos. Blue Nile, with a rhythmic feel that recalls John Coltrane’s Equinox, allows Kofi to demonstrate his affinity for the spiritual Coltrane tenor, while on Bzhezhinska’s lovely ballad Spero (‘I hope’), Bartley and Prime sit out while Kofi and Bzhezhinska interplay with extraordinary sweetness and sensitivity. On Los Caballos they double the riff-based melody while Prime switches to congas.
What’s so annoying about semitones? Maybe they’re difficult on the harp – I really have no idea. Annoying Semitones doesn’t help us with the answer, but it does allow some terrific groove time for Larry Bartley. Winter Moods features an unchanging riff that may remind you of the theme to The Twilight Zone. Following a Lovely Sky Boat is a free improvisation dominated by Bartley’s bass figure, ending with some wonderfully sepulchral arco work. The more I play this album, the more I like it.
Inspiration is released on Friday 1 June 2018 with a concert at London’s Toulouse Lautrec, and an album launch on 15 June at the Vortex.