Every once in a while, and I mean every once in a while, the Jazz Gods presents the disciples with an apostle. First, there was Dorothy Ashby, then spiritualist Alice Coltrane, and now Brandee Younger from New York and Alina Bzhezhinska, currently residing in London UK.
Inspiration has been in the making for a short while since Alina announced its upcoming release at the 2017 EFG London Jazz Fest. It was here I saw her first perform, supporting Pharoah Sanders and Denys Baptiste. ‘A Concert for Alice and John' left me appreciating the harp even more.
Of course, most of us have heard or listened to Alice Coltrane at one time or another and very few listeners relate to her tremendous piano skills. It was shortly after the death of John Coltrane, Alice sought refuge and spiritual sanctuary with Swami Satchidananda in the early to late 70's. Alice also travelled with the Swami to India and Sri Lanka, from where she takes inspiration for Journey in Satchidananda and World Galaxy. Alice adopted her Sanskrit name Turiya Alice Coltrane, and here a new era of spiritual jazz begins.
Alina's tributes are so well played and re-produced, if you close your eyes, one could imagine you are in a private audience with John (Tony Kofi) and Alice Coltrane. Many modern and contemporary artist are very good at reproducing the original feel for their heroes, often with a twist. However, to play note for note, timbre and recreate pure spiritualism in today's electronic world of white-noise deserves an applause.
Wisdom Eye, Blue Nile, Los Caballos, Journey in Satchidananda and, After the Rain by John Coltrane are very calming, with sharp notes played over resonating tones. There is a strong influence of Indian music with a polystylistic approach, that is not easy to achieve. However, Alina accomplishes the tasks with apparent ease and intense passion.
Tony Kofi, again is an incredibly talented artist, whom I've known for a short while. His knowledge of John Coltrane can only be contested by the dictionary of Coltrane - if anyone dares! This is reflected in his subtle yet powerful lead in Speo , also written by Alina. This song captures the imagination and is the epitome of relaxation. Tony expresses himself well in this short yet compelling piece exploring, the various technically challenging chords and making it sound simple. Tony and Alina deliver a masterpiece.
As the mythological Sirens summon sailors, Alina's harp summons us to her presence in this enchanting intro as it moves into a subtle Latin style beat with a fine percussion ambience. There is a delicate balance between the harp and Larry Bartley's upright bass in Annoying Semitones. The tune is spiritual, but with an optimistic shuffle.
The sound of the deep creaking upright bass played with the long stroke of the bow likens to the bow of a moaning ship slowly rising up and down in the waves of Alina's harp. The ‘free-improv’ Following a Lovely Sky Boat is an apt name for this jazzy tune as Tony Kofi tries to console the waves with his soprano saxophone. The quartet plays to its strengths, full of confidence and showing no signs of weakness. This is pure talent played at an international level where there is no electronic substitute for this level of musicianship.
I am not sure where a quartet with this assembly of talent goes from here. For her first album, it is indeed ‘up-there’ with the best, unquestionably in the UK and Europe; and will be a hard act to follow, although not impossible. Alina has now thrown down the gauntlet and challenged herself.
In summary, the album features some classic and new songs; all performed exceptionally well. Notwithstanding, the variety of styles that are narrow; however, delightful with each instrument providing an outstanding accompaniment that completes this quartet.
The harp is famous again and is deserving of this re-kindled spotlight.
Alina Bzhezhinska: harp
Tony Kofi: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Larry Bartley: double bass
Joel Prime: drums and percussion
Producer: Alina Bzhezhinska , Tony Kofi
Label: Ubuntu Music