"...the ensemble puts a smile on our collective face."
Pacific Harp Project: Megan Bledsoe Ward, harp; Noel Okimoto, virbes; Todd Yukumoto, sax; Jon Hawes, bass; Allan Ward, drums. self-released, 2019
I have long been curious as to why we say we “play” music rather than “make” or “do” music. And yet, so many musicians get wrapped tight in tension surrounding a need to be perfect and please an audience, they completely lose sight of the pure joy of creating—and the joy their creation can instill in listeners. That’s precisely the reason Pacific Harp Project chose the name Play for their latest disc, to stay mindful of why they do what they do.
Opening with playfully cascading arpeggios in Ward’s original Lily Lou, named for a fun-loving poodle, the ensemble puts a smile on our collective face. Harp and vibes trade flirtations before handing the reins to soprano sax and finally a relaxed vocalise.
Noel Okimoto introduces the mournful timbre of steel tongue drum. It’s more like a singing bowl with a limited set of notes. But in a glass-half-full move, he plays to the limitation of the drum’s scale and creates a kind of repeating ostinato for the exquisite saxophonist Todd Yukumoto to riff on.
It wouldn’t be the Pacific Harp Project without reference to music from the classical world. Ward’s arrangement of a Marcel Tournier song La Lettre is a melancholy mix of sweet nothings and palpable desire in a manner only the French could express.
Ward uses the great harp icon Carlos Salzedo and his work Scintillation as her inspiration to introduce the band individually. It allows them to share what they can do, and it’s a blast in its childlike playfulness with sounds, especially when soprano saxophonist Allen Won comes on board with a look-what-I-can-do” freedom. Drummer Allan Ward adds a juicy fill worthy of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and I just melted.
Introducing us to the earthy sound of the fue, a kind of wooden flute, is Kenny Endo in his soulful Sunflower. It’s dreamy and elusive, inviting participation from the entire ensemble. It leads inexorably to Endo setting down the flute to take up the tuned drums of Japan, the taiko, underscoring the intense energy source that is a sun flower.
Ending with Broken Handel will have every harpist—and harp music lover—cracking up with laughter. Let’s just say the ensemble was unclear they were playing the right notes at the first reading, but slightly deranged was what Ward had in mind. Creative, playful, and an absolute gas, you will find plenty to listen to every time you press play on this album.