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LAST year was the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's death and the 10th of his startling jazz-harpist wife Alice. They were an inspiration for London-based harpist Alina Bzhezhinska — hence the title of an album moved by her love for the couple's music.
She's accompanied on this album by three of Britain's top contemporary jazz musicians — saxophonist Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Joel Prime — and the opening track, Alice Coltrane's Wisdom Eye, begins with some serene solo work from Bzhezhinska, with only Bartley's delving bass alongside her, with her strings vibrating and singing poignantly.
Then it's Blue Nile from Alice Coltrane's 1970 album Ptah, the El Daoud, with Kofi's stately soprano horn blowing the theme, Prime's drums crackling and Bartley's heartbeat throbs underpinning the blessed desert shower of Bzhezhinska's bass.
Los Caballos has a Latin edge, with Prime on hand drums and Kofi's tenor riffing the chorus, while Bartley digs deep in his solo and Bzhezhinska forges a powerful harmony with Kofi's horn. It's as if her harp has endless strings, a sensation gained too from her first composition on the album, the exquisitely played Spero. On her own Annoying Semitones she plays at her harp's lower register and as she does so it sounds like an orchestra of guitars.
Winter Moods is another Bzhezhinska tune and while the inventive Prime plays some complex percussive patterns, her sombre notes create a moment of precious reflection. Following a Lovely Sky Boat sets up a unity-in-contrast between Bartley's bowed depth, the sonic sparkle of Bzhezhinska's strings and Kofi's sometimes soaring and sometimes chuntering horn.
Lemky, the album's outstanding track, has Bzhezhinska expressing her empathy and identification with what she describes as the “tragic history” of the people of Lemkivschyna in the Carpathian mountains. Their homeland is squeezed by the much more powerful polities of Poland, Ukraine and Slovakia, yet despite eras of repression, relocation and attempted absorption, they still proudly assert their own culture. Alina begins in the lower register while Kofi blows the theme on his tenor in compelling harmony, with Prime brushing his drums and Bzhezhinska's solo chiming with a matchless beauty.
Then it is the Coltranes. First, John Coltrane's After the Rain from his 1963 Impressions album, which the quartet plays with a sense of intimate union, with Bartley's pulsating bass and Bzhezhinska's scintillating strings meshing with the melodic clarity of Kofi's soprano saxophone.
The finale is Alice Coltrane's Journey in Satchidananda from the 1970 album of the same name, heralded by the deep vibrato of Bartley's resonating notes. This 2018 recording is in every way just as fine and Kofi's mellow and undulating sound with Alina's waves of beauty create a unity that is deeply memorable.
The harp is a uniquely fluid jazz instrument when played by an Alice Coltrane or an Alina and the momentous Inspiration demonstrates exactly why.
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