Alina Bzhezhinska & Tony Kofi: Altera Vita

Harpist and saxophonist pay tribute to Pharoah Sanders, apparently inspired by his later, gentler, more mesmeric style


Alina Bzhezhinska and Tony Kofi have successfully collaborated since 2015, recording the albums Inspirations (2018)and Reflections (2022), but this is their first as a duo and it’s dedicated to Pharoah Sanders, with whom they shared the stage in the 2017 London Jazz Festival.

The music is definitely inspired by Sanders’ later work, gentler and more disciplined than his early high-octane period, but away from the highly percussive dance style. It incorporates the mesmeric spirituality that characterised the music, with its obvious connection to Alice Coltrane.

Bzhezhinska provides the textural canvas of expansive sweeps, broad and open, on which Kofi builds his statements, gently modulated with breathily sustained notes on Tabula Rasa. The two provide the percussion on the album. Tu Vides is based around their small sounds, Kofi on kalimba, a thumb piano, before venturing into a simple phrase, both harp and horn adjusting to key and tempo changes and development.

Tange is introduced by the plucked harp, pianistically interweaving with Kofi’s tenor, which teeters on the edge of taking it out. Similarly, Bzhezhinska opens Altera Vita but here Kofi’s restraint is more evident, and a blues feel pervades, reminiscent of the mid-period Coltrane of Crescent, which was also so influential in the work of Sanders.

They are joined on Audite Me by Muriel Grossman on tanpura, a fretless sitar which provides the distinctive eastern tone of the piece. Alternating between the ethereal glide of the harp and a brief harmolodic bop motif, Kofi walks a tightrope, moving his sphere of reference but maintaining self control – just. This responsive relationship between the two recurs throughout the album, none more so than on Anima, where Bzhezhinska’s eloquent flourishes and lower register strings elicit a smooth and expressive response from Kofi’s tenor, shadowing her every move.

An album of great beauty and tranquillity. Recommended.

Tabula Rasa – Blank Slate; Tu Vides – You See; Tange – Touch; Audite Me – Hear Me; Anima – Breathe; Altera Vita – Another Life (33.14)
Bzhezhinska (hp, pc); Kofi (ts, kalimba, pc); Muriel Grossman (tanpura). London, 29/30 August 2023.