Deborah Henson-Conant, 'Round the Corner (41:42) Golden Cage Music GC-87-002-CD Box 400250 Cambridge, MA 02140-0003 Phone: 1-888-DEB-STUF Cyberhome: www.hipharp.com Deborah Henson-Conant, the self-described "bad girl" of the jazz harp, released this recording on cassette back in 1987. In 1994 she reissued it on CD. Although her instrument couldn't be any more unconventional, on this early date she plays jazz standards in a conventional trio format (lead instrument, upright bass, drums). Her rhythm section makes one sit up and take notice: bassist John Lockwood and drummer Bob Gullotti are two-thirds of George Garzone's well known group The Fringe. There's a resonant, sustaining quality to the harp that, in a jazz context, sounds somewhat similar to the vibes. But there's also a New Agey softness to the instrument, and this is a liability on a track such as "Blue Bossa." On "'Round the Corner," "Swingin' Shepherd Blues," and "Georgia On My Mind," the instrument's limitations as a mode of blues expression are hard to ignore. However, on the bright waltz rendition of "Over the Rainbow," which Henson-Conant sets up with a beautiful, unaccompanied Wizard of Oz medley, the harp sounds dreamy and rich. Likewise, on "Summertime," which Gullotti spices up with log drums, Henson-Conant uses the harp's innate sonic qualities to remake the tune in her own mold. ~David R. Adler
Budapest (1993) Just for You (1995) Altered Ego (1996, revised 1998) Music of Deborah Henson-Conant Laika Records, Unity Records, Golden Cage Music http://www.hipharp.com Jazz harpist Deborah Henson-Conant is a veteran of the jazz scene in the Boston area. She performs with a variety of different bands and instrumentalists, and is a versatile stylist as well. Her music can range from neatly put together “smooth jazz” with a Latin or modified African beat, to “soft rock,” to funny and sentimental songs which would fit in quite well with what is sometimes called “womens’ music.” The three albums I’ve heard document this range quite well. Budapest (named for where it was recorded) is almost all instrumental. Henson-Conant plays with some excellent European players, including the fine guitarist Chieli Minucci, and integrates “world” influences into her music, though all the compositions are hers. There is an invigorating variety of moods here, ranging from the jazzy “Fool of the World” to the Celtic-inspired “Kerry Dance.” Just for You was recorded live in Germany, where Henson-Conant played a mix of hot harp jazz, passionate mood music, and bumptious comedy to an appreciative audience who fortunately understood English. This album showcases her act, which (though of course it isn’t visible) includes athletic harp gymnastics, stage schtick, and funny songs about dustballs and watermelon. Altered Ego is the one I would refer to as “womens’ music” because of its autobiographical, romantic, and “inspirational” lyrics designed for womens’ lives and concerns. Even the album cover features childhood pictures of Henson-Conant. This album is mostly songs, rather than instrumentals, and here’s where I have problems with Henson-Conant’s music. When she plays her harp, she’s great. Her instrumental stuff lights up the air. But when she sings, she’s no more than mediocre, and in many places, just bad. Her voice has an acid, harsh quality to it, and more often than not, she’s out of tune. Even when she hums or sighs wordlessly accompanying instrumental solos, as in Budapest, she doesn’t stay on the notes. Hearing this, I wish she would just let her harp do all the singing. So if you like hearing sophisticated harp jazz, I recommend you select her all-instrumental work, which is cheerful and rewarding, and skip over her vocalizing. Hannah M.G.Shapero 2/20/2000
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