Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dorris Henderson - 1967 - Watch the Stars

Dorris Henderson 
Watch the Stars

01. When You Hear Them Cuckoos Hollerin'
02. It's Been A Long Time
03. 30 Days In Jail
04. No More My Lord
05. Watch The Stars
06. There's Anger In This Land
07. Mosaic Patterns
08. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
09. For Lovin' Me
10. Come Up Horsey
11. God Bless The Child
12. The Time Has Come
13. Poems Of Solitude
a. Poems Of My Heart
b. Eighteen Tedious Ways
c. Magic String
14. Lonely Mood
15. Gonna Tell My Lord
16. Message To Pretty

Bass – Danny Thompson
Guitar – John Renbourn, Tim Walker
Vocals, Autoharp – Dorris Henderson

Track 16 originally released as Fontana single 'A' side TF811 in 1967.

Folk music exploded in England during the mid-1960s. Solo artists like Roy Harper, Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, and groups such as Fairport Convention, Fotheringay, and the Incredible String Band burst onto the scene with fresh sounds that made the Skiffle revival of the previous era seem dated and hokey. The Florida-born, Los Angeles-raised Dorris Henderson was a vital presence of the Brit Folk scene. Although she only released two albums under her name (with guitarist John Renbourn) during that era, the African American artist made a strong impact through the quality of her work. She had a strong, bright, and earthy voice and a good ear, and selected top-notch material into her repertoire.

Henderson recorded Watch the Stars, her second album, in January 1966, but it was not released until 1967. The record has just been digitally remastered and reissued by Fledg’ling Records with one bonus cut, Arthur Lee’s bittersweet and bouncy “Message to Pretty”. The crystal clear production suits the L.A. lass’s intimate vocals and Renbourn’s precise acoustic guitar playing style. It’s a shame Henderson, who died in May of this year, did not live to see her music released to a new audience. The old record has been out of print and unavailable for years.

Several of the tracks on Watch the Stars, such as the title cut, are traditional American and English folk tunes. Highlights include the jaunty “When You Hear Them Cuckoos Hollerin’”, the Piedmont Blues of “Thirty Days in Jail”, and the gentle “Come Up Horsey”. The influence of Joan Baez on Henderson is clearly evident on these tunes, in which Henderson’s voice rings like a bell. The L.A. lady also covers Bob Dylan’s wistful “Tomorrow is a Long Time” and Gordon Lightfoot’s loutish “For Lovin’ Me”. These songs were part of the standard folk set list of many musicians of the period and could be heard at hootenannies around the globe. Still, Henderson and Renbourn perform splendid renditions of these cuts. Renbourn opens the Dylan cover with a jangly riff, full of quiet, empty spaces that allow Henderson to gently croon the lovelorn lyrics and be heard. When she raises her voice in volume and pitch for emphasis, the effect is appropriately dramatic.

The two take the opposite tack on the Lightfoot cut, which makes sense as the narrator roughly boasts that he’s leaving his lover and “won’t think of her when he’s gone”. Lightfoot’s purposely ambiguous lyrics suggest he’s being cruel to be kind. His bravado serves as a mask. Renbourn’s guitar work functions to reveal the narrator’s hidden, deeper feelings about leaving through his intricate fingerings that indicate his emotions are more complex than the words indicate.

Henderson wrote or co-wrote several songs on Watch the Stars, including the wistful “Mosaic Patterns” with Annie Briggs. The reclusive Briggs has become a legend over the years, in part because of Richard Thompson’s beautiful song about her, “Bee’s Wings”. The psychedelic imagery of “Mosaic Patterns” suggests Briggs’ delicate mental state at the time. It’s unclear what parts were written by Henderson and which lines were penned by Briggs, but Henderson’s other material here shows that she was a very talented songwriter. The L.A. songstress’s poignant “Lonely Mood” and spiritual “Gonna Tell My Lord” show her facility at conveying profound emotional states. Henderson and Renbourn also do a lovely version of Briggs’ heartrending ballad, “The Time has Come”.

The three “Poems of Solitude” provide the disc’s most intense listening thrills. Henderson recites, rather than sings, the lyrics. The trilogy weaves together Joan Chi’s bitterly romantic “Poems of My Heart”, the Zen-like spiritualism of Pao Chao’s “Eighteen Tedious Ways”, and Li Ho’s “Magic String” as performed by Renbourn. The guitarist plucks the guitar rather than strums it, which gives the music an eerie resonance. The result seems simultaneously loud and quiet in a manner that mimics nature, i.e., the crashing of a wave upon a wave.

Renbourn went on to a successful solo career and as a member of Pentangle and the John Renbourn Group. Henderson joined the largely unknown folk group Eclection and died in relative obscurity. She put out one solo album in 2003 (with Renbourn appearing as a guest performer) and played occasional dates with Renbourn during the past decade, but her glory days were far behind her. Fledg’ling Records should be commended for bringing this gem back in print. Henderson was too good an artist to be forgotten. And these early recordings of Renbourn show he always had the goods.

Dorris Henderson And John Renbourn - 1965 - There You Go!

Dorris Henderson And John Renbourn 
There You Go!

01. Sally Free And Easy 3:56
02. Single Girl 2:30
03. Ribbon Bow 1:28
04. Cotton Eyed Joe 2:16
05. Mr Tambourine Man 3:47
06. Mist On The Mountain 1:46
07. The Lag's Song 2:34
08. American Jail Song 2:42
09. The Water Is Wide 2:42
10. Something Lonesome 2:09
11. Song (Falling Star) 2:04
12. Winter Is Gone 2:51
13. Strange Lullaby 1:49
14. You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond 3:17
15. One Morning In May 2:24
16. A Banjo Tune 3:07
17. Going To Memphis 3:09

1965 Columbia Single:
18. Hangman 2:32
19. Leaves That Are Green 2:18

Guitar, Backing Vocals – John Renbourn
Vocals – Dorris Henderson

Dorris Henderson cut an unforgettable figure on the emergent British folk-music scene of the mid-1960s. Vivacious and mini-skirted, she had a rich voice and a richer personality. The sight of a wisecracking autoharp-playing black American made a lively impact on the burgeoning UK folk movement; and her musical partnership with John Renbourn helped launch his reputation and career as one of the generation's most exciting guitarists.

Dorris Henderson, singer: born Lakeland, Florida 1933; married Mac McGann (one son, two daughters); died London 3 March 2005.

Dorris Henderson cut an unforgettable figure on the emergent British folk-music scene of the mid-1960s. Vivacious and mini-skirted, she had a rich voice and a richer personality. The sight of a wisecracking autoharp-playing black American made a lively impact on the burgeoning UK folk movement; and her musical partnership with John Renbourn helped launch his reputation and career as one of the generation's most exciting guitarists.

She steadfastly refused to conform to expectations, rejecting the blues and spirituals expected of black singers of the time in favour of traditional folk song and the bold contemporary songs of young writers like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. She even joined one of the folk-rock bands of the day, Eclection, and played the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 with, among others, Bob Dylan.

The daughter of a clergyman and the granddaughter of a pure Blackfoot Indian, Dorris Henderson was born in Lakeland, Florida, but raised in Los Angeles. She started working for the civil service but seeing the iconic folk-blues singer Odetta perform one night at the Ash Grove in LA changed her life.

She became a regular at the jazz clubs on Sunset Boulevard, where she saw many of the greats like Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone and Carmen McCrae and, armed with an autoharp and a copy of Alan Lomax's songbook The Folk Songs of North America, started performing herself.

Singing at a healthfood restaurant at Topanga Canyon, one day she met the left-field comedian/raconteur/poet Lord Buckley, who invited her to join him on stage at a series of shows in Hollywood. She ended up singing "Rock of Ages" while Buckley performed his classic "The Nazz" party piece on a live album and dubbed her "The Lady Dorris".

Henderson decided to embark on a full-time singing career, and arrived in New York at the time of the Greenwich Village folk boom. She became friends with most of the main movers and shakers of the period, including Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. She appeared briefly in the notorious 1967 Dylan film Don't Look Back and recorded one of the first Paul Simon covers with the single "Leaves That Are Green".

Encouraged by her brother serving in England in the air force, she decided on a whim to come to London. She didn't know a soul but stayed at a hostel in Hampstead and wound up at the Earl's Court folk club the Troubadour. One guest spot playing Appalachian ballads on her autoharp and she was on her way. Gigs followed and she became resident on a new BBC2 television show, Gadzooks! It's All Happening, whose guests included Tom Jones, Lulu, Sandie Shaw and many other pop stars of the day.

One night at the Roundhouse pub in Soho she met a young guitarist, John Renbourn, and invited him to be her accompanist. They recorded two albums together, There You Go (1965) - which included a cover of Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man" and Cyril Tawney's "Sally Free and Easy" - and Watch the Stars (1967), with a stirring version of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child".

The partnership with Renbourn fizzled out as he went on to develop a groundbreaking partnership with another brilliant guitarist, Bert Jansch, before they both launched the internationally successful Pentangle. Instead, Henderson accepted an invitation to replace the Australian Kerrilee Male as singer with the band Eclection, which featured Trevor Lucas (who later married Sandy Denny and played with Fotheringay and Fairport Convention). Later, she went back to the notion of a progressive folk-jazz-rock band, forming Dorris Henderson's Eclection, with her son Eric Jones on guitar.

She married the guitarist Mac McGann, formerly with the Levee Breakers, but largely dropped out of music for two decades, living in Twickenham, raising a family and confining her singing to the house and low-key pub appearances. She sang on a few television jingles and occasionally performed with Bob Kerr's band, but it took a reissue of the There You Go album in 1999 to inspire a serious comeback.

In 2003 she released Here I Go Again, a brand-new album encompassing traditional folk, blues, jazz, poetry and her own songs that she described as "my musical autobiography". It featured John Renbourn as well as old colleagues from Eclection and proved that even at the age of 70 she was still a bundle of vitality, character and charm.

John Renbourn studied classical guitar at school and it was during this period that he was introduced to Early Music. In the 1950s, along with many others, he was greatly influenced by the musical craze of “Skiffle” and this eventually led him to explore the work of artists such as Lead Belly, Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy.

In the 1960s the new craze in popular music was Rhythm and Blues, also the impact of Davey Graham was being felt. In 1961 Renbourn toured the South West with Mac MacLeod and repeated the tour in 1963.On returning from the South West Renbourn and MacLeod recorded a demo tape together. Renbourn briefly played in an R&B band while studying at the Kingston College of Art in London. Although the British “Folk Revival” was underway, most folk clubs were biased towards traditional, unaccompanied folk songs, and guitar players were not always welcome. However, the Roundhouse in London had a more tolerant attitude and here, John Renbourn joined blues and gospel singer Dorris Henderson, playing backing guitar and recording two albums with her.

Possibly the best known London venue for contemporary folk music in the early 1960s was “Les Cousins” on Greek Street, Soho, which became the main meeting place for guitar players and contemporary singer-songwriters from Britain and America. Around 1963, Renbourn teamed up with guitarist Bert Jansch who had moved to London from Edinburgh, and together they developed an intricate duet style that became known as “folk baroque”. Their album Bert and John is a fine example of their playing.

Renbourn released several albums on the Transatlantic label during the 1960s. Two of them, Sir John Alot and Lady and the Unicorn, sum up Renbourn’s playing style and material from this period. Sir John Alot has a mixture of jazz/blues/folk playing alongside a more classical/early music style. Lady and the Unicorn is heavily influenced by Renbourn’s interest in early music.

At around this time, Renbourn also started playing and recording with Jacqui McShee who sang traditional English folk songs, and with American fiddler Sue Draheim. Together with Bert Jansch, bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox, they went on to form Pentangle. The group became very successful, touring America in 1968, playing at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Folk Festival.

Renbourn went on to record more solo albums in the 1970s and 1980s. Much of the music is based on traditional material with a Celtic influence, interwoven with other styles. He also collaborated with American guitarist Stefan Grossman in the late 1970s, recording two albums with him, which at times recall his folk baroque days with Bert Jansch.

In the mid-1980s Renbourn went back to the university to earn a degree in composition at Dartington College of Arts. Subsequently he focused mainly on writing classical music, while still performing in folk settings. He also added acoustic guitars for the movie soundtrack Scream for Help, a studio project with his neighbour John Paul Jones.

In 1988, Renbourn briefly formed a group called Ship of Fools with Tony Roberts (flute), Maggie Boyle (lyrics, misc. instruments) and Steve Tilston (guitar). They recorded one eponymous album together. After practising by mailing tapes to each other in England, they held their first concert, comprising two sold-out shows, at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club Theater. Regrettably, the soundboard bootleg tape was not saved due to a dispute between the concert promoter and the audio engineer.

Renbourn continued to record and tour. He toured the USA with Archie Fisher. In 2005 he toured Japan (his fifth tour of that country) with Tokio Uchida and Woody Mann. In 2006 he played at number of venues in England, including the Green Man Festival in Wales and appearances with Robin Williamson and with Jacqui McShee. In the same year, he was working on a new solo album and collaborated with Clive Carroll on the score for the film Driving Lessons, directed by Jeremy Brock.

In 2011 he released Palermo Snow, a collection of instrumental guitar solos also featuring clarinetist Dick Lee. The title track is a complex mix of classical, folk, jazz and blues. This piece is a departure, in that there is a classical core, with other styles intermixing, rather than the core style being blues, folk or jazz.

Since 2012 he had toured with Wizz Jones, playing a mixture of solo and duo material. Renbourn previously appeared on Jones’s album “Lucky the Man” (2001) with other former members of Pentangle. In 2016, an album by the pair, titled Joint Control, was released.

Renbourn died on 26 March 2015 from a heart attack at his home in Hawick in the Scottish Borders, aged 70.

It's a pleasure to come across an artist that truly touches your soul. There is a purity to this CD that is hard to come by in this day of big production and synthesized music. Dorris has a voice that is hard to categorize, at times soaring soulfully and at other times soft and melancholy. One of my personal favorites is her rendition of the Dylan classic Mr Tamborine Man. When she sings the lyric "play a song for me" you wonder how anyone could resist complying with her request. And Ribbon Bow is a sweet glimpse into the past, to a more simple time when it really didn't take much to grant a young girl's wish. John Renbourn's guitar playing is superb and compliments Dorris' unique style wonderfully. Any one who is a folk purist should enjoy this CD throughly. It is a break from the ordinary and a pleasure to listen to.

Dorothy Ashby - 1984 - Django / Misty

Dorothy Ashby 
Django / Misty

01. Django 4:52
02. Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise 3:17
03. Round Midnight 4:45
04. Blues For Mr. K 3:37
05. My Favourite Things 5:42
06. September In The Rain 4:03
07. Misty 3:37
08. Amor En Paz 3:20

Harp, Arranged By – Dorothy Ashby

A few years ago, I had one of the most powerful live music experiences of my life when I went to see Stevie Wonder on his Songs in the Key of Life Tour. He delivered one of the greatest collections of musical material ever composed and performed at the highest level with the emotion, energy, and musicality of a true master.

The band was massive: two drummers, three guitarists, bass, two or three other keyboardists behind him, a full string section with a conductor, a horn section, backup singers, plus India.Arie sitting in as a featured guest vocalist.

The only thing missing was a harp. And this was going to be a problem because, soon, it came time to play the album’s classic vocal-and-harp duet, “If It’s Magic.”

Wonder confidently explained that he felt that harpist Dorothy Ashby should not be replaced, so this song would feature the only pre-recorded track of the evening. As he sang, a picture of Ashby was projected upon the screen, looking out over the crowd. Despite the size of the venue — the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore — and the awkward singalong situation, this “duet” captivated the large audience and was both intimate and moving, even without the live presence of the harpist.

Ashby’s playing was just that special.

By the time Dorothy Ashby recorded with Wonder, the Detroit-born harpist was already living in Los Angeles and playing on recording sessions with a long list of pop and R&B artists, including Bill Withers, Minnie Riperton, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. “If It’s Magic” is only three minutes and 12 seconds of music recorded in one day over the course of a career that spanned 30-something years, but here it was representing Ashby in a special tribute in front of tens of thousands of fans every night on a national tour.

So, I guess this is as good a place as any to begin exploring Ashby’s music.

Ashby was not only a high-profile session player, she also led a rich career as a composer and recording artist, releasing albums that ranged from straight-ahead jazz to jazz-funk and soul and covers of pop songs. And even though the legacy of innovation and experimentation with the harp as an open-ended instrument worth bringing out of the rusty cages of the classical orchestra perhaps belongs more definitively to Alice Coltrane, Ashby had already done a lot of that work years before Coltrane ever set foot into a studio.

Her discography shows the progression of an artist fighting against preconceived notions of the harp’s place in improvised music. On her early records, The Jazz Harpist (1957) and Hip Harp (1958), Ashby emerged as an iconoclast with a strong voice for jazz groove and improvisation.

Her evolution continued over the course of records such as the eponymous Dorothy Ashby (1961) and The Fantastic Jazz Harp of Dorothy Ashby (1965). On 1968’s Afro-Harping, Ashby’s music showed a decisive stylistic change as she moved away from the jazz-group format. Paired with producer and arranger Richard Evans, they created a trio of funky, soulful records that found her stretching out, even playing koto and singing, too.

By the time the ’70s rolled around, Ashby was living in LA and her recording work was focused mostly on other artists’ sessions. But then in 1984, Ashby released two intimate solo harp records of mostly jazz standards, Django/Misty and Concierto de Aranjuez. She passed away shortly after this burst of creative output in 1986.

Dorothy Ashby - 1984 - Concierto de Aranjuez

Dorothy Ashby 
Concierto de Aranjuez

01. Concierto De Aranjues 9:26
02. Gypsy Airs 3:51
03. Green Sleeves 1:30
04. Gershwin Melody / Summer Time - Somone To Watch Over Me - Porgy 7:49
05. Autumn Leaves 5:14
06. Dear Old Stockholm 1:14
07. Yesterday 2:57

Digital Recording
Recorded March 7-8, 1983
Studio: Capital Recording Studio, Hollywood

Arranged By, Harp – Dorothy Ashby

The harp is such a phenomenally beautiful instrument and I don't understand why it isn't much more prominent in jazz, or music in general. Dorothy Ashby plays with grace and feeling. Listening to this album feels like being swept away into some mystical fairy tale land. It's soothing but also kind of melancholy in a way that I don't think can really be described properly with words.

Dorothy Ashby - 1970 - The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby

Dorothy Ashby 
The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby

01. Myself When Young 5:16
02. For Some We Loved 4:02
03. Wax And Wane 4:25
04. Drink 2:30
05. Wine 3:56
06. Dust 2:51
07. Joyful Grass And Grape 3:38
08. Shadow Shapes 3:32
09. Heaven And Hell 3:10
10. The Moving Finger 5:39

Original compositions inspired by the words of Omar Khayyam, arranged and conducted by Richard Evans
Recorded at Ter-Mar Studios, Chicago, November 1969 - January 1970

Alto Saxophone – Cliff Davis (tracks: B5)
Flute, Oboe, Piccolo Flute – Lenny Druss* (tracks: A1-A5, B5)
Guitar – Cash McCall (tracks: B5)
Harp, Vocals – Dorothy Ashby
Kalimba – Fred Katz (tracks: A2, A3, B5)
Koto – Dorothy Ashby (tracks: B5)
Vibraphone – Stu Katz (tracks: A1, A3, A4, B1, B3, B4, B5)
Violin – Ed Green (2) (tracks: A2)

Issued on Cadet in 1970, The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby is really a left-field offering for the jazz harpist. But being a jazz harpist was -- and remains -- an outside thing in the tradition. Her previous offerings on Prestige were pure, hard bop jazz with serious session players soloing all over them. She made recordings for Atlantic and Jazzland before landing at Chess in 1968 with Afro-Harping which began her partnership with arranger Richard Evans. Ashby became content as an iconoclast and was seemingly moving forward toward the deep well of spiritual jazz in the aftermath of John Coltrane's death and the recordings of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. On this set for Cadet, she again teams with Evans who wears the hats of producer, arranger, and conductor of a string section and the record goes in a somewhat different direction. Whereas Afro-Harping hit on a direction for Ashby and cemented her relationship with Evans, Rubaiyat realizes that partnership in total. With a band that included a host of percussion instruments -- Stu Katz played vibes and kalimba, and Fred Katz played a second kalimba, Cash McCall was enlisted as guitarist, Cliff Davis played alto saxophone, and Lenny Druss played flute, oboe, bass flute, and piccolo. There is also a bass player and a drummer but they are not credited. For her part, Ashby played her harp, but she also brought the Japanese koto into the mix as well as her voice. Rubaiyat is no ordinary jazz vocal album. It is exotic, mysterious, laid-back, and full of gentle grooves and soul. The opening cut, "Myself When Young," with its glissando harp and koto, is in an Eastern mode, and immediately lays out Ashby's vocal as this beautiful throaty, clear instrument hovering around the low end of the mix. Midway through it kicks into soul-jazz groove without losing the Eastern mode and goes, however gently, into an insistent funky soul-jazz groove. There is no kitsch value in this music, it's serious, poetic, and utterly ingenious musically. It sounds like nothing else out there. And it only gets better from here. The poem that commences "For Some We Loved" gives way to a percussion and koto workout that comes right from the modal blues. The oboe playing is reminiscent of Yusef's Eastern Sounds but with more driving, hypnotic rhythm. "Wax and Wane" begins with kalimbas playing counterpoint rhythms and Ashby singing in Japanese scale signature, but soon hand percussion, strings, and a flute enter to make the thing groove and glide, ethereal, light, beautiful. "Drink" is a pure soul-jazz ballad with harp fills, a funky bassline, and shimmering flutes above a trap kit. The piano solo -- played by Evans, we can assume -- on "Wine," is a killer move bringing back the hard bop and giving way to a smoking vibes solo by Katz. It's as if each track, from "Joyful Grass and Grape," "Shadow Shapes," and "Heaven and Hell," enter from the world of exotica, from someplace so far outside jazz and western popular musics, and by virtue of Ashby's vocal and harp, are brought back inside, echoing the blues and jazz -- check out the koto solo on this cut, by way of the symbiotic communication between Evans and the musicians. You can literally hear that Ashby trusts Evans to deliver. Ashby transforms "Shadow Shapes" and "Heaven and Hell" from near show tunes in her contralto into swinging, shuffling jazz numbers. The lithe beauty on display in her voice and the in-the-pocket backup of the rhythm section is flawless and infectious. The set ends on its greatest cut, "The Moving Finger." Introduced by what seems like an Eastern Buddhist chant, it quickly slips into harp, koto, guitars, drums, and bass bump. Evans adds strings for drama playing repeating two-note vamps before Katz and his vibes take the thing into outer space. The slippery guitar groove and alto solo that cut right into the flesh of the blues turn it into a solid late-night groover with plenty, plenty soul. The fuzz guitar solo playing counterpoint with the kalimba rhythms is mindblowing, sending the record off to some different place in the listener's head. And this is a head record. Time and space are suspended and new dimensions open up for anyone willing to take this killer little set on and let it spill its magic into the mind canal through the ears. Depending on how much of a jazz purist you are will give you a side to debate the place of this set in Ashby's catalogue. For those who remain open, this may be her greatest moment on record.

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.”

Dorothy Ashby - 1968 - Afro-Harping

Dorothy Ashby 

01. Soul Vibrations 3:15
02. Games 3:58
03. Action Line 3:40
04. Lonely Girl 3:12
05. Life Has Its Trials 4:35
06. Afro-Harping 2:59
07. Little Sunflower 3:45
08. Valley Of The Dolls 3:32
09. Come Live With Me 2:35
10. The Look Of Love 4:05

Recorded at Ter Mar Studios, Chicago, February 1968.

Lonely Girl was taken from the Paramount film score of Harlow. Theme from Valley Of The Dolls was taken from the 20th Century Fox film.

Dorothy Ashby, harp
Richard Evans, arranger/producer
other musicians unknown.

Cue up “Soul Vibrations,” the first track of Dorothy Ashby’s Afro Harping, and revel: a one-note syncopated bass line over a slamming drumbeat that you’re sure you’ve heard sampled somewhere. Enter the double-tracked theremins, followed by swoopy strings. Next, over the relentless beat, an echo-plexed harp solo by Ashby, during which the strings return with 16-notes; then the theremins run the groove into a fade-out. And there you have it: 3’15’’ of pure aural time capsule in all its mod glory. 

Afro Harping was arranged by producer Richard Evans (see also Groovin’ With The Soulful Strings ) and recorded by Ashby with unknown musicians for Cadet Records in 1968. As an example of Ashby’s talents as the undisputed master of the jazz harp (the stringed instrument, by the way, not the harmonica), it is not ideal; her earlier straight-jazz records make a better case for her instrument in improvised music. But as a groove-heavy slice of late-'60s lounge, it’s unbeatable. Actually, there are two styles on the album: a heavy funk, psychedelic groove showcased on the two side-openers, “Soul Vibrations” and “Afro-Harping”; and a genial, insinuating pop-jazz feel with more extensive displays of harp prowess. Both are lightweight and certain to garner the derision of jazz purists, but those with open ears will enjoy the record as a cheesy but delightfully fun artifact of a less self-conscious time. 

Ashby contributes several beguiling themes, most of which (despite the title) are set to a lilting, bossa nova feel reminiscent of Burt Bacharach (whose “Look of Love” is featured), accompanied by strings, vibes, and flute. Ashby’s catchy lines on “Action Line” are reminiscent of a marimba, while at other times her harp plays a more guitar-like (“Afro-Harping”) or pianistic (Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower”) role. 

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the use of this instrument in jazz that makes one curious to hear Ashby on her earlier, more bop-influenced dates, few of which are available on CD. Sometimes, as on “Lonely Girl” and “Theme From Valley of the Dolls,” the pop syrup is laid pretty thick. But in all, it’s good to have this album, which is apparently one of the most sought-after vinyl records among the beat-sampling crowd, available on CD. Those interested in 60s mod will enjoy it for its own sake, while others will be provided with an interest-piquing introduction to a largely forgotten instrument, and musician, in jazz.

Dorothy Ashby - 1965 - The Fantastic Jazz Harp Of Dorothy Ashby

Dorothy Ashby 
The Fantastic Jazz Harp Of Dorothy Ashby

01. Flighty 3:30
02. Essence Of Sapphire 2:14
03. Why Did You Leave Me 2:58
04. I Will Follow You 3:08
05. What Am I Here For 2:21
06. House Of The Rising Sun 3:01
07. Invitation 2:59
08. Nabu Corfa 3:47
09. Feeling Good 5:15
10. Dodi Li 2:18

Bass – Richard Davis
Drums – Grady Tate
Harp – Dorothy Ashby

Percussion – Willie Bobo (tracks: A1, A41 to B5)
Trombones (tracks: A3, A5, B1, B3, B5):
Jimmy Cleveland
Quentin Jackson
Sonny Russo
Tony Studd

Spellbound Music present a reissue of Dorothy Ashby's sixth album, The Fantastic Jazz Harp Of Dorothy Ashby, originally released in 1965. Ashby was a Detroit born jazz harpist who passed away in her early 50s in 1986. She left a rich legacy of music with The Fantastic Jazz Harp Of Dorothy Ashby being one of her milestones. The music is purely bright and swinging with a joyful mood. Dorothy Ashby is always there upfront while the brass section mostly fills the background with color. Typical for the ancient jazz, there are no vocals on this record but this only adds to the depth and intriguing atmosphere of the music. Ashby starts where Coltrane left the field of real song-oriented albums for his experimental efforts and she really pulls it off. The Fantastic Jazz Harp Of Dorothy Ashby is haunting but with a rather relaxed approach to this style. For the time it was released, this album was an utterly progressive effort and the pop sensibility of many tracks make it a great joy to spin. Jazz fans will dig it and open minded people who love the music of the '60s will also develop a fondness for this beauty.

Dorothy Ashby - 1962 - Dorothy Ashby

Dorothy Ashby 
Dorothy Ashby

01. Lonely Melody 3:45
02. Secret Love 3:32
03. Gloomy Sunday 2:34
04. Satin Doll 5:08
05. John R. 3:15
06. Li'l Darlin' 4:29
07. Booze 2:15
08. Django 4:30
09. You Stepped Out Of A Dream 3:25
10. Stranger In Paradise 3:14

Bass – Herman Wright
Drums – John Tooley
Harp – Dorothy Ashby

"She was able to play incredible bebop on her instrument." There had been jazz harpists prior to Ashby, like Adele Girard, but no one else had adapted the harp to jazz so successfully nor had integrated into such a broad array of musical styles. Her influence certainly opened doors 

she grew up around music in Detroit where her father, guitarist Wiley Thompson, often brought home fellow jazz musicians. Even as a young girl, Dorothy would provide support and background to their music by playing the piano. While in high school she played a number of instruments (including the saxophone and string bass) before coming upon the harp. 

in Detroit she studied piano and music education. After she graduated, she began playing the piano in the jazz scene in Detroit, though by 1952 she had made the harp her main instrument. perceived as an instrument of classical music and also somewhat ethereal in sound Ashby overcame their initial resistance and built up support for the harp as a jazz instrument by organizing free shows and playing at dances and weddings with her trio. She recorded with Ed Thigpen, Richard Davis, Jimmy Cobb, Frank Wess and others in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During the 1960s, she also had her own radio show in Detroit. 

Ashby's trio, including her husband John Ashby on drums, regularly toured the country, recording albums for several different record labels. . In 1962's annual polls the best jazz performers included Ashby. Extending her range of interests and talents, she also worked with her husband on a theater company, the Ashby Players, which her husband founded in Detroit, and for which Dorothy often wrote the scores.  

"A jazz harpist is a rare thing. First of all the harp is a rather unlikely instrument to swing. It's an awfully difficult instrument to play really well and it demands technique that is incongruous with swinging. Perhaps as important is the thinking that the harp, by the very nature of the instrument, is likely to attract musicians who, in themselves, are improbable swingers. Dorothy Ashby is, then, a rare thing. She is indeed a jazz harpist and she does swing. This is not hard jazz. This is an album that says jazz can, after all, be melodic, that a thing can be gentle without being weak and can be sweet without being saccharine. What is done here is done well, the improvisation is creative, and in typical Dorothy Ashby thinking - it's done in beautiful taste." -- Jim Rockwell, Station WKMH, Detroit (from original liner notes). Features the jazz standard "Satin Doll", written by Duke Ellington.

Dorothy Ashby - 1961 - Soft Winds

Dorothy Ashby
Soft Winds

01. Soft Winds 2:56
02. Wild As The Wind 4:21
03. The Man I Love 2:56
04. My Ship 3:40
05. Love Is Here To Stay 2:42
06. I`ve Never Been In Love Before 2:27
07. With Strings Attached 2:25
08. Laura 2:59
09. The Guns Of Navarone 2:15
10. Misty 2:42
11. The Gypsy In My Soul 2:49

Bass – Herman Wright
Drums – Jimmy Cobb
Harp – Dorothy Ashby
Liner Notes – Ira Gitler
Vibraphone – Terry Pollard

New York, August 15 and 16,1961.

Originally released in 1961. From the original liner notes: "Dorothy Ashby may not be the first jazz harpist (Caspar Reardon) or the first female jazz harpist (Adele Girard), but her good feeling for time and ability to construct melodic, guitar-like lines, mark her as the most accomplished modern jazz harpist (...) Accompanying her was another Detroit girl, Terry Pollard. Terry's main instrument is the piano and she is one of the best in the country, bar none. She is also a pretty fair country vibraharpist and in this set, Miss Pollard plays vibes exclusively. With them is still another Detroiter, Herman Wright, who like Miss Pollard has worked with Terry Gibbs and Yusef Lateef, and who also served as Miss Ashby's regular bassist. (...) Completing the quartet is Jimmy Cobb, drummer for the Miles Davis group. During the proceedings, Cobb travels between brushes and sticks without upsetting the equilibrium of this essentially quiet set. There is wide range of material presented here, from blues like Benny Goodman's title number, 'Soft Winds', and Miss Ashby's 'With Strings Attached', to movie themes such as 'Laura', 'Wild Is the Wind', and 'The Guns Of Navarone'. Then there are works by such superior writers of standards as Kurt Weill ('My Ship'); Gershwin ('The Man I Love' and 'Love Is Here To Stay')"