Dorothy Ashby and Frank Wess

In A Minor Groove

BY Nilan PereraPublished Apr 25, 2019

The re-release of this admittedly straight-ahead jazz album (originally released in 1958) comes as a breath of fresh air into the sonic world. What really sets music apart from the traditional hard bop excursions of a bygone era is the beautiful combination of harp and flute over an acoustic bass and drum kit backdrop.
Dorothy Ashby's harp begins a medium tempo groove bopping along in a very harp-like way, until she comps behind Frank Wess. It, for all the world, sounds like a guitar chording underneath the cheerful boppiness of the flute.
This is not to say that it's any replacement for another instrument, as Ashby more than adequately brings forward the whole range of the harp, with ringing tones and arpeggios that sparkle with a unique clarity. Her melodic lines are beautiful and strong and have that lovely allegiance to the piano in their completeness.
The partnership with the flute is also inspired. Frank Wess is one of the most revered flautists in jazz history, but the juxtaposition of the two sonic spaces is simply marvellous. Both have a softness in tone, but the muscularity of the  attack makes their excursion as challenging as it is delicate.
As for the rhythm section of Roy Haynes on drums and Henry Wright on bass, they swing hard and provide a sensitive and telepathic understanding of the instruments and players they back up. Haynes stays on brushes throughout, providing a sympathetic cloud of support that propels, but does not overpower. To complete the character of the music, Wright's precise and sinuous bass lines stand out in relief as both  clear statements and another unit of propulsion. A really great and quite original jazz album.

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