Arrangements help the harp feel at home in a jazz combo
Harpist Megan Bledsoe Ward is joined by Noel Okimoto (vibraphone), Jon Hawes (bass) and Allan Ward (drums) in demonstrating the possibilities of using a harp as a jazz instrument in this self-titled debut album by the Pacific Harp Project.
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“Pacific Harp Project”
Pacific Harp Project
Harpist Megan Bledsoe Ward is joined by Noel Okimoto (vibraphone), Jon Hawes (bass) and Allan Ward (drums) in demonstrating the possibilities of using a harp as a jazz instrument in this self-titled debut album by the Pacific Harp Project. Think Hiroshima with Ward’s harp in place of June Kuramoto’s koto, but with fewer additional instruments. The advantage here is that with only three other musical instruments sharing the spotlight, the harp is more prominent.
The “project” — the group and the album — is an outgrowth of Ward’s 2012 doctoral dissertation, “The Harp in Jazz and American Pop Music.” She explains in the liner notes that she has always been interested in performing jazz but that the harp is not well suited to playing many of the songs that have become standards of the genre. A solution here is to take compositions written for harp and rearrange them for performance by harp and rhythm section. She’s not the first to bring the harp into a jazz milieu, but her choices of material and arrangements are good ones.
The decision to include Okimoto also was a good one. The vibes give the arrangements a second melodic instrument, and the passages in which Okimoto solos with Hawes and Ward take the listener into warmer “lounge music” climes.
Maui resident Lily Meola introduces herself with an album that deserves national play on mainstream radio. Two originals show that Meola and her production team have interesting thoughts to share. Several remakes show that Meola and producer-musician Eric Helmkamp can approach the work of other writers in imaginative ways as well.
Celebrity guests make noteworthy contributions. It’s been 45 years since Janis Joplin topped the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart with “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Meola is reviving Joplin’s biggest hit with the song’s composer, Kris Kristofferson, as her backing vocalist. Willie Nelson joins her on “Will You Remember Mine,” the song she sang with Nelson on his album “To All the Girls …” in 2013. Nelson and his sons, Lukas and Micah, provide instrumental backing on several others. Guests of their magnitude will certainly draw attention.
“Dream a Little Dream of Me” was already an oldie when “Mama Cass” Elliott had a hit with it in 1968. The lyrics are just as enchanting in 2016 as Meola shares them with a new generation of romantics.
Although this is Meola’s debut album, she isn’t new to the music business. She’s sung with Nelson at three of his Farm Aid concerts.