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Alina Bzhezhinska

Alina Bzhezhinska is a harpist, composer, and bandleader and she founded and leads the HipHarpCollective. Based in London, England, she is classically trained yet fluent in the musical languages of classical, jazz, pop, rock, and electronica. Her warm, cascading sound weds organic jazz instrumentation and electronics in explorations of modal and spiritual jazz. She fell under the sway of Alice Coltrane's and Dorothy Ashby's jazz harp innovations early on, and has been crusading for the instrument in jazz ever since. In 2005 she released Harp Recital, a solo outing crisscrossing classical music, folk songs, and jazz standards. After years spent woodshedding and working live on the London scene with Django Bates, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and the Glasgow String Quartet, she founded a jazz quartet and released the globally acclaimed Inspiration in 2018. She created HipHarpCollective, during the 2020 pandemic; it expanded the harp's reach into further collaborations and styles. This ensemble recorded Reflections, which appeared in September 2022. In 2024, she and Hip Harp Collective saxophonist Tony Kofi issued the duo set Altera Vita. Bzhezhinska was born in Ukraine to a Polish-Ukrainian family. She studied classical harp throughout her school years. She obtained a Master's degree at the F. Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland and moved overseas to study jazz performance at the University of Arizona, where she earned a Master's in Music Performance. Following her graduation, she relocated to the U.K. in 2002 and became the resident harp tutor at the prestigious Royal Conservatory of Scotland for seven years. While there, she also played in ensembles ranging from the World Youth Symphony Orchestra and the National Opera in Warsaw to the Scottish Opera. She released Harp Recital, her solo debut, in 2005. It showcased her playing classical compositions, folk songs, jazz standards, and an original. Bzhezhinska began playing jazz in earnest and woodshedded in Glasgow and across Europe. She eventually relocated to London and formed a group with Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley, and drummer Joel Prime. In November 2017, greater England got to hear her when Barbican Centre hosted A Concert for Alice and John, and the then-unknown quartet opened for headliner Pharoah Sanders. Kamaal Williams heard her playing and was so impressed, he eventually recruited her for Wu Hen. The HipHarpCollective signed a one-off deal with Ubuntu and recorded Inspiration in 2018, supported by a PRS Women Make Music Award. The program she chose included nine tracks: four were compositions by Alice Coltrane, and one was by John ("Blue Nile." a tune introduced to Bzhezhinska by Shabaka Hutchings some years earlier), and five of her own compositions. The recording met with rave reviews across the U.K. and in Europe. The group toured the U.K., and played the WOMADelaide Festival in Australia, the Worldwide FM Festival in London, and on BBC Radio 3, followed by gigs at Edinburgh International Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Royal Albert Hall, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. The band opened for Gregory Porter and Omar. During the pandemic, Williams, Bzhezhinska, and Hutchings delivered an intimate, oft-discussed livestreamed gig from artist Hassan Hajjaj's shop in London. Itching to play jazz and continuing to facilitate new spaces and settings for the harp (and for its players inside the genre and on the exploding London scene), she founded HipHarpCollective -- an organization that did just that. She also created a band of the same name that included Kofi, trumpeter Jay Phelps, bassists Mikele Montolli and Julie Walkington, percussionist Joel Prime, violinist Ying Xue, drummer Adam Teixeira, and guest vocalists. They started recording Reflections, their debut album, in the autumn of 2020 and completed it in the summer 2021. The group layered in hip-hop beats and production, as well as Afro-Latin jazz grooves and trip-hop beats inside a program that balanced originals and covers. It included two tunes associated with John Coltrane ("Alabama" and "Afro Blue"), and "Fire" (co-composed by Alice Coltrane and Joe Henderson), as well as a compelling version of Duke Ellington's classic "African Flower." Bzhezhinska produced the set, which was engineered and mixed by Nostalgia 77's Ben Lamdin and released by BBE in September 2022. On the eve of that album launch, at a release party, news spread that saxophonist Pharoah Sanders had died. Kofi and Bzhezhinska played a moving tribute to him with a duo performance of his "Astral Travelling," which gave goosebumps to many in attendance. The next evening, Kofi entered a studio and composed "Atera Vita for Pharoah Sanders)" in a duet with the harpist. The track became the foundation for a duo album of the same title that was issued in April 2024. In addition to harp, Bzhezhinska provided percussion, while Ibiza-based saxophonist Muriel Grossman added tamboura to the mix via the internet.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo

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