This 1969 LP on Chicago's Cadet label is hard to categorize - although in many ways it is 'jazz', it also has clear elements of soul and funk, as well as the neo-classical strings more commonly associated with mood music and easy listening albums. Whatever you call it, I'd say this is a pretty nice LP. It could be accused of being a one-trick pony, the 'trick' being to add a solid, slightly funky beat and bassline to every song. Even if this is partly the case, I don't think it detracts from my enjoyment of the LP.
Original Liner Notes:
DOROTHY'S HARP is a magical experience, indeed! It shimmers, glimmers and soars! It's funky, baroque and beautiful. Soulful, haunting, melodic. And besides that, it sounds good. An unbelievably versatile instrument, it offers the simple directness of the guitar, the fluidity and grace of the piano, the Old-World delicacy and charm of the harpsichord. Not surprising, really, since all these instruments evolved from the harp.
What is surprising is that, until Dorothy Ashby, the harp has been consistently #1 in Downbeat's Category of "Most Forgotten Miscellaneous Instrument," easily edging such contenders as the theremin and the seraphine. Yet, with all the versatility and beauty the harp has offered through the ages, most folks can name only two harpists, and they're remembered for skills other than their harping. David, who played lead harp in King Saul's Army Band, achieved his fame first by bonking Goliath the Super-Philistine, and later by becoming King of the Israelites. What's more, he looked like Gregory Peck. And finally, his harping wasn't that good. Like President Nixon on piano, he played everything in "G."
Harpo Marx was an incredible harpist who could have done much to popularize the instrument, but he's remembered primarily for inventing the hydrogen bomb, which he kept in his pocket...next to the telephone, which was invented by Don Ameche.
So much for history. The fact is the harp has needed a champion for aeons, and it finaly has one in Dorothy Asby, as one hearing of Dorothy's Harp will reveal.
If you're a professional musician or jazz fan, chanced are you're already aware of just how great Dorothy is; if this is your first exposure, you're in for a treat that'll make you glad to have ears.
Producer Richard Evans' arrangements showcase Dorothy's Harp to perfection and reflect everything that is tasteful and exciting in today's popular music. In addition to the six recent standards, you'll be delighted by two Evans originals ("Truth Spoken Here" and Toronado") and two Ashby originals ("Cause I Need It" and "Just Had to Tell Somebody").
The fender piano work of Odell Brown is also first rate, as are the flute and oboe solos by Lennie Druss.
This is the kind of album I'm happy to share with an audience.
WBNS Radio Columbus, Ohio
1. By the time I get to Phoenix
A really great album opener. The arrangement shimmers and sparkles through the opening, with a funky beat, baroque strings and fender rhodes (played by Odell Brown, who also recorded on Cadet). before Dorothy's harp comes in, and the mix becomes more bare. The relentless beat continues throughout the song, which also features some unusual woodwind arrangements, reminiscent of the albums Richard Evans was producing at around the same time with veteran band leader Woody Herman. The first version I heard of this song was Nick Cave's stripped down version on 'Kicking Against the Pricks' from 1986, and while I love that version, along with Glen Campbell's and countless others, this one rates pretty highly as well.
2. Canto De Ossanha
I consider this Brazilian classic by Baden Powell to be 'bulletproof' - that is, one of those songs which always sounds brilliant, whoever is interpreting. This version is certainly very cool, with a relentless rhythm, more gentle than some of the other tracks on the LP, but very addictive all the same, with great bongos. Dorothy's harp playing is quite exquisite and intricate, with some great improvisation. At times the mix quietens down, and the bass, fender rhodes and percussion are highlighted.
3. Love is Blue
While it's perhaps not 'bulletproof', I'm very fond of this Andre Popp instrumental (Claudine Longet's version is a particular favorite). The approach taken here is to fit the tune into the same kind of funky 4-4 beat used in 'By the time I get to Phoenix', and mix in the same kind of baroque arrangements. At times, everyone drops out except the woodwind. It works quite well, although it feels slightly labored to me sometimes.
Another Brazilian classic, the standard version of which for me is by Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 (although the version by Nancy Ames on 'Spiced with Brasil' is great as well). It's another very strong track, with lots of great gliding shimmers on the harp, and a relentless rhythm with a nice guiro sound.
5. This Girl's in Love with You
A complete change of mood, with a slow, jazzy take on this Bacharach number. Although I'm an enormous Bacharach fan and love this song, I'd say this is one of the weaker tracks on the album. Perhaps this because the laid-back arrangement lacks the drama of Burt's own recording (or, for that matter, the many hit versions).
6. Truth Spoken Here
Opening with a middle-eastern sounding instrumental passage on the harp, this track explodes into life after 15 seconds, with a huge beat and a tight bassline. Dorothy picks out an intricate tune, which is then echoed by the woodwinds.
Although this is a Richard Evans original, the opening strongly recalls 'Baubles, Bangles and Beads' to me, and I keep expecting the song to turn into it. I'm thinking of the Frank Sinatra version on his album with Jobim, or even the Deodato version on 'Prelude'. It also recalls that song 'The Joker'. Anyway, original or not, it's a nice track, more gentle than many of the others on this LP. The string arrangements remind me of a Nelson Riddle album on the MPS label I have, 'Colors', some of the tracks of which were compiled on the 'Snowflakes' compilation of MPS material a few years ago. The track develops further in the middle, with some interesting wordless vocals, and then what sounds almost like a reprise of 'fly me to the moon'. Or am I hearing things? Either way, it's a very interesting track.
8. The Windmills of your mind
When I was researching this album on the internet a few years ago, I came across a posting where someone claimed this was the only good track on this album. I guess this was because of the 'classic' quality of its beat and general groove. It opens with some dramatic plucks of the harp, and then falls into a delectably funky beat, with all of the hallmarks of this album - a tight and relentless drumbeat and bassline, topped with an intricate harp line. Strings then seep into the mix, adding a nice dramatic feel.
9. Cause I need it
A Dorothy Ashby original, this track is another highlight, with a simple bluesey riff running through it and some great guitar playing. It ends with a super cool echoing harp scale.
10. Just Had to Tell Somebody
Another Dorothy Ashby original, this one is slower and sweeter, and really very charming. There is a wah wah like effect in the background; I can't tell if this is a synth or just a guitar with effects on it; either way, it's pretty cool.
11. Fool on the Hill
This was never my favorite Beatles track, but it seems to stand up to cover versions quite well. This track is a bit of an oddity though. It opens with some familiar sounding bells (they make me think of the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds'). Anyway, this track contains the same mix of woodwinds, harp and percussion as most of the others here, but the changing time signatures give it an extra twist. Not one of the best tracks on the album, but quite nice all the same.