In an inspired piece of programming, London's Barbican Centre presented the then virtually unknown harpist Alina Bzhezhinska and her quartet as one of the support bands on its November 18, 2017 one-nighter A Concert for Alice and John, a show headlined by Pharoah Sanders. It would be an exaggeration to say Bzhezhinska stole the show (see "Pharoah Sanders" above), but she was sensational, offering up fresh readings of Alice Coltrane tunes and a few originals, accompanied by Tony Kofi on saxophones, Larry Bartley on bass and Joel Prime on drums.
The Ukrainian-born, London-based Bzhezhinska went on to release an outstanding debut album, Inspiration (Ubuntu, 2018), made with the quartet which performed at the Barbican. The review can be read here.
Reflections, recorded in autumn 2020 and summer 2021, is the follow-up. It follows the same trajectory as Inspiration but adds a few twists. The biggest of these are the expanded personnel and a splash of funk. Kofi and Prime are still on hand, in a collective lineup which also includes Jay Phelps on trumpet, Mikele Montolli on electric bass and double bass, Julie Walkington on double bass, Ying Xue on violin and viola, and Adam Teixeira drums. Vocals and a rap are also featured on two of the twelve tracks. Not everyone plays on every track. There are a couple of trios, a septet, and various points between.
On Inspiration, Bzhezhinska demonstrated that she had oodles of soul, a quality not usually associated with harpists, who can be a tad wafty. She plays to this strength on Reflections, in the manner of her playing, her choice of material and her arrangements. There are hip hop beats, funk beats and backbeats in general, and little straight four/four. The material itself, all of which places great store in melody, is a mixture of originals and tunes written by or associated with John Coltrane ("Alabama" and "Afro Blue"), Alice Coltrane ("Fire," co-written by Coltrane and Joe Henderson), and that other great American harpist, Dorothy Ashby ("Soul Vibration," heard on the YouTube clip below, and "Action Line"). Duke Ellington's "African Flower" is given an exquisite reading. Bzhezhinska produced the sessions, the engineer and mixer was Ben Lamdin, and the sound is clean, warm and uncluttered. Playing time is just over an hourand it flies by.
Soul Vibrations; For Carrol; Fire; Reflections; Afro Blue; Alabama; African Flower; Paris Sur Le Toit (instrumental); Sans End; Action Line; Paris Sur Le Toit (rap and vocal); Meditation.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.