International Jazz Extravaganza
(Dora Stoutzker Hall. Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. 26 July 2022. Review by Jon Turney)
Festivals and conferences crowd the Summer calendar: the World Harp Congress now in session in Cardiff is a bit of a hybrid of both. Harpists of all persuasions gathered for the first time in Europe for 14 years, at an event finally realised after two pandemic postponements. Delegates heard talks, workshops or recitals from a few jazz players, including Tara Minton, Monika Stadler, Christine Lutz and Alina Bzhezhinska.
A public event at the Royal Welsh College on Tuesday evening offered an even broader take on where jazz harp is at. A pre-concert set in the foyer from local man Ben Creighton Griffiths’ and Adrien Chevalier’s Transatlantic Hot Club trio saw the harpist and violinist range widely over Django Reinhardt tunes, jazz standards, blues and bossa nova, the two principals both soloing richly.
Rossitska Milevska took things in a rather different direction, opening the main proceedings in the College’s beautiful Dora Stoutzker Hall. She played in duo with percussionist Cedric Le Donne in the absence of their bassist – the basslines flowing instead from the harp, gaining emphasis from her instrument’s pickup. She dipped into her Bulgarian heritage with a love song, with looped vocal complementing her strings, and some characteristically complex Balkan time signatures, but was equally at home on a Brazilian composition. Her exuberant virtuosity persuades that a harp in the right hands can do just about anything.
A feeling reinforced by the equally skilled Belgian Pia Salva, especially on her self-penned opener Valencia. Noam Israeli made this another harp/percussion duo, which seems to suit the instrument. Her short set was less harp-centric, though. She is also a devoted singer and her own songs are less jazzy, which is no matter, but also less interesting: more soft-rock vocal with harp decoration, though a solo rendition of Nature Boy was quietly effective.
Finally, a vocal-free jazz trio, led by Amanda Whiting with Mark O’Connor on drums and Aidan Thorne on six-string electric bass. She also composes jazz pieces that draw freely on classical devices, and improvises in a style that exploits the lush soundscapes the harp affords without losing rhythmic impetus.
It’s always a slight surprise to recall that there are a zillion jazz piano trios but jazz harp conversations still begin with Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane and then tend to peter out. They shouldn’t, and these four exponents all, in their different ways, showed how it can deliver things impossible for any other single instrument.