Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dorothy Ashby - 1969 - Dorothy's Harp

Dorothy Ashby 
Dorothy's Harp

01. By The Time I Get To Phoenix 3:28
02. Canto De Ossanha 3:34
03. Love Is Blue 2:50
04. Reza 2:58
05. This Girl's In Love With You 2:46
06. Truth Spoken Here 2:50
07. Toronado 2:59
08. The Windmills Of Your Mind 3:17
09. Cause I Need It 2:58
10. Just Had To Tell Somebody 3:03
11. Fool On The Hill 3:39

Recorded at Ter Mar Studios, March, 1969, Chicago

Electric Piano [Fender] – Odell Brown
Flute – Lennie Druss (tracks: B5)
Oboe – Lennie Druss (tracks: B3)

There had been considerable questions about the harp’s place in jazz. After all, it’s a music form that was (and still is) dominated primarily by brass, woodwinds, and percussion. Dorothy Ashby sought to change that mindset. A master player by all accounts, she could work wonders with her fingers making the instrument sound less classical and more like a soothing, yet still elegant guitar. A few years after Dorothy’s Harp, she’d be working with Stevie Wonder.

To further her sound, she had enlisted the help of Richard Evans the prior year after signing with Cadet. Together they forged ahead to construct a rich palette of sounds that surrounded you with the instrument instead of immersing you. On “The Windmills Of Your Mind,” Ashby’s harp introduces the tune before being taken away by a light, but funky bass. She then floats back into the mix creating a texture that’s not often heard with the harp taking the lead while a groovy bass line plods with a soul-funk feel. That said, though, it works astonishingly well. The tones she creates with her harp create a haunting, yet beautiful vibe. To further that emotion, Evans added in some fantastic strings.

Brazilian touches abound as well. Ashby and friends dial up two standards in “Reza” and “Canto de Ossanha.” The former showcases Ashby creating space in the mix for her solos, which helps make the faster-than-usual pace of the song more palatable. In their reading, the song becomes more prone to hip shaking whereas a slower-paced version might lend to more hip swaying. Meanwhile, “Canto de Ossanha” follows much the same trend. There is some great interplay between the flute where the two instruments sometimes play alongside one another note-for-note, while at other times the flute relegates to rhythm steadier with succinct pop-pops. Odell Brown then seals the deal with some exquisite solo work on Fender Rhodes.

However, it would be an incomplete review without mentioning Ashby’s originals in “Cause I Need It” and “Just Had To Tell Somebody.” She again goes with Brazilian touches on “Cause I Need It” including some great bongo work. There is no doubt who is in command of this track even as other instruments, including the oboe take the lead. The harp’s main riff is succinct before straying into solo mode. “Just Had To Tell Somebody” is a happy affair that finds her exploring pop-soul nuances with an arrangement that once again never overbears. The melody emboldens its title as it seems to build with excitement.

In the ’90s and ’00s, Ashby’s work started to be plucked for hip hop samples. Notably Pete Rock sampled two songs from the album – one for the shelved-and-finally-released INI album that included “Fakin Jax” (which sampled “Cause I Need It”) – and the other being his beat for Rahzel’s “All I Know” (using “The Windmills Of Your Mind,” which you can hear at the beginning of the Rahzel track). Ugly Duckling also sampled “Canto de Ossanha” for “Another Samba.”

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