Harping On About Alina…
We knew Tony of course – Neil and I had both worked with him before. Alina and the harp as an instrument were much less familiar, although preceded by her fulsome reputation. We listened to her music, went to see her perform, and dusted off our Alice Coltrane CDs.
Tony and Alina kindly agreed to play some Interplay tunes as well as bringing their own material. I proposed numbers that might suit a Coltrane-inspired programme. ‘Gratitude’, ‘Spanish Step’, ‘Slow Flame’ and ‘Rising on Thermals’ all made the cut with McCoy Tyner’s ‘Contemplation’, leaving me with the delightful task of re-arranging them for the expanded line-up.
We rehearsed the new charts and studied Alina’s parts, some of which were a few notes with one-line instructions. They would depend entirely on our finding the right feel on the night.
On the afternoon before the gig we worked through the whole programme – and were delighted to find there was a natural sympathy between us. Alina was clear about what she wanted and we were happy to provide it. Tony’s virtuosity in the front line seemed to throw Alan and Richard’s abilities into sharper relief, not leave them in the shade.
Before the concert Alina, prompted by Matthew Wright from In The Moment, talked engagingly and humorously about her musical development and growing engagement with jazz. It is integral to In The Moment’s approach to offer insights into the music alongside its performance, and the audience enjoyed Alina’s openness and honesty.
Then came the concert. Alina and Tony set out their stall with the opening sequence; ‘Wisdom Eye’ and ‘Blue Nile’ by Alice Coltrane, and Alina’s tenderly hopeful tune ‘Spero’. We supported them in our characteristic way, with Dave’s percussion in particular laying out textures and colours differing from their usual arrangements, and to which Tony and Alina readily responded. Several Interplay tunes followed, memorable for me especially for Tony’s storming solo on ‘Gratitude’, before the first set culminated with a moody and muscular ‘Dahomey Dance’.
A different vibe opened the second set: Dorothy Ashby’s bright Soul-Jazz anthem ‘Action Line’, featuring electric bass and Alan’s flute. Alina then gave an ethereal aura to ‘Rising On Thermals’, sensitively accompanied by Neil with Alan on soprano. Alice Coltrane’s intense ‘Gospel Trane’ was next, opening the door to some really free playing across the whole band in which both Richard and Alan showed their full capabilities.
A gorgeously delicate version of John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’ followed, before Dave’s open drum solo led us into ‘Spanish Step’ at a blistering tempo which brought forth another powerful solo from Tony. After that we took a deep immersion in the meditative qualities of Indian music and thought as ‘Journey In Satchidananda’ by Alice Coltrane brought the set to an uplifting end. The audience response was marvellous, and unsurprisingly provoked an encore: ‘Afro-harping’ by Dorothy Ashby proved a lively and good-natured coda to the evening.
We had been through a huge range of moods and atmospheres, some contemplative, others fiercely energetic, some elementally simple, others musically complex and multi-faceted. But it was the openness and engagement of Alina, Tony and the guys in Interplay that I will remember, because that is what allowed the music to flow, and to flourish in such a special way.