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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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DOROTHY ASHBY

Four Classic Albums Plus

Avid AMSC 1120

 

 

CD1

The Jazz Harpist

1. Thou Swell

2. Stella By Starlight

3. Dancing On The Ceiling

4. Aeolian Groove

5. Quietude

6. Spicy

7. Lamentation

Dorothy Ashby – Harp

Frank Wess - Flute

Eddie Jones – Bass (tracks 1, 2, 4, 5)

Wendell Marshall – Bass (tracks 3, 6, 7)

Ed Thigpen – Drums

Hip Harp

8. Pawky

9. Moonlight In Vermont

10. Back Talk

11. Dancing In The Dark

12. Charmaine

13. Jollity

14. There’s A Small Hotel

Dorothy Ashby – Harp

Frank Wess – Flute

Herman Wright – Bass

Arthur Taylor – Drums

In a Minor Groove

15. Rascallity

16. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

17. It’s A Minor Thing

CD2

In a Minor Groove

1. Yesterdays

2. Bohemia After Dark

3. Taboo

4. Autumn In Rome

5. Alone Together

Dorothy Ashby – Harp

Frank Wess – Flute

Herman Wright – Bass

Roy Haynes – Drums

Dorothy Ashby

6. Lonely Melody

7. Secret Love

8. Gloomy Sunday

9. Satin Doll

10. John R

11. Li’l Darlin’

12. Booze

13. Django

14. You Stepped Out Of A Dream

15. Stranger In Paradise

Dorothy Ashby – Harp

Herman Wright – Bass

John Tooley – Drums

Soft Winds

16. The Man I Love

17. My Ship

18. Love Is Here To Stay

19. I’ve Never Been In Love Before

20. Laura

Dorothy Ashby – Harp

Terry Pollard – Piano, vibes

Herman Wright – Bass

Jimmy Cobb - Drums

 

For a long time I thought I was one of a very limited number of people who had heard of Dorothy Ashby – let alone appreciated her work. So I am gratified to find that the Avid label has regarded her as sufficiently important to merit inclusion in their series of excellent budget reissues.

Dorothy Ashby is one of those rarities: a jazz harpist. Adele Girard and Casper Reardon are well know from their jazz harp recordings in the 1930s, and more recent exponents of this rare art include David Snell, Corky Hale and Alice Coltrane. Harpo Marx deserves a mention, even though his harp-playing seemed limited. And that’s about it: unsurprisingly, as the harp is a difficult instrument to play in a jazz context. It is not very capable of fast passages, and its tendency for the notes to continue ringing after they are played makes it unsuitable for types of jazz which require precision.

Nevertheless, Dorothy Ashby proves in this collection that she can play fastish numbers, like the mid-tempo Dancing On The Ceiling and the quicker Aeolian Groove. She is also a fine exponent of ballads, using plenty of arpeggios (which seem to be what classical harpists play most of the time) but also creating lovely melodies – like her own composition Quietude. In fact Dorothy wrote many of the tunes on this album, revealing a talented creator of varied material.

This compilation contains four original LPs dating from 1956 to 1961, plus five tracks from the 1961 album Soft Winds. On the first three LPs, Dorothy is joined by flautist Frank Wess. The flute blends well with the harp, and Frank gets almost as much solo space as Dorothy. He often creates neat counterpoint with Dorothy’s harp. The sound quality of these first three LPs is not particularly good, even though all the tracks have apparently been remastered. The sound on some tracks is boxy or muffled. Ed Thigpen’s drums are virtually inaudible on The Jazz Harpist, except when he plays drum breaks. Art Taylor’s drums are more prominent on Hip Harp.

But Dorothy Ashby’s harp comes through fairly clearly. Ashby really shows the harp’s potential in Moonlight In Vermont, where the rustling strings conjure up thoughts of mountain streams or the fluttering of nighttime breezes. Dorothy also has an amusing tendency to quote other pieces of music, as when she quotes from Peter and the Wolf in Charmaine. And you can sometimes hear her humming alnong with her solos, like Keith Jarrett or Glenn Gould!

The last two LPs give Ashby more of the limelight, as she is joined simply by a rhythm section (on the Dorothy Ashby LP, this is just bass and drums). This enables us to savour her expertise closer-up, and hear how she can swing a number like Secret Love while interpolating some cheeky quotes from other tunes. Gloomy Sunday appropriately has the sound of bells and the mood of a funeral march. Dorothy takes L’il Darlin’ at a faster tempo than the Count Basie original but it works well at her tempo. The five tracks from the Soft Winds album have the variety of pianist Terry Pollard also playing the vibes, a sound which contrasts with the harp. Dorothy and Terry both play My Ship with feeling.

It is good to see recordings by Dorothy Ashby being freely available again. Buy now while stocks last.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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