Amanda Whiting, “The Liminality Of Her”
By Michael J. West · March 25, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

If there is a context in which Amanda Whiting’s jazz harp is not mesmerizing, she hasn’t found it yet. Whiting’s fourth album steeps the Welsh musician’s delicate melody lines and lustrous chords in an aura of hazy, ethereal mystery. That aura extends over a set of mellow grooves, which, far from grounding the music, are as atmospheric and hypnotic as their surroundings.

Those grooves—played throughout by bassist Aidan Thorne, drummer Jon Reynolds, and percussionist Mark O’Connor—serve as a reminder that the new UK jazz scene comes out of London’s dance music underground. Yet even the deepest and hardest veins of funk they mine here, as on “Liminal” and “No Turning Back,” become gentle swayers once Whiting’s harp enters the picture. It’s actually a bit baffling: “Liminal” finds her matching Thorne’s syncopation—not smoothing out his slippery thumps, but reinforcing them. It still comes out as dreamy, music to float on clouds by.

Is the instrument itself that does that? To some degree, yes. We in the West mainly know the harp in two guises: the stuff you’ll hear in heaven (what Frank Zappa called “cloud-and-angel music”), and the soundtrack to gauzy on-screen fantasy sequences. The efforts of its two most important jazz exponents—Dorothy Ashby’s lush intricacies, Alice Coltrane’s trippy Zen—didn’t do much to change that reputation. (Whiting namechecks both Ashby and Coltrane in discussing her own music.)

But the Welsh harpist also has something special. She’s as pointedly rhythmic on “Rite of Passage” (a feature for the wordless vocals of guest PEACH) as on “Liminal,” but her finely woven vamps between and around PEACH’s soft wail completely belies Thorne’s pointed bass and Reynolds’s insistent snare. The 5/4 “Intertwined,” the other urgently percussive feature for PEACH (this time with lyrics), finds Whiting shying away from the rhythm, save for accents in every other bar. She instead acts as a buffer for the vocals, so that PEACH’s long, lazy, sumptuous notes feel at home with the hard-driving Thorne and Reynolds. Whiting’s solo turns into a faceoff with Thorne, whose upright has an angry tone; they each hold their own, but in the end it’s the bass that’s subdued.

Not to say that Whiting only practices subversion of funk and swing throughout The Liminality of Her. “Nomad” is a Middle Eastern evocation, with the harp channeling the Persian santur (i.e., hammered dulcimer) while O’Connor plays subtle hand drums beneath. On “Waiting To Go,” she shares the lead with guest flutist Chip Wickham; harp and flute should inevitably fall into the cloud-and-angel trap. There are spots where they come close. But in tandem with Thorne, O’Connor, and a very restrained Reynolds, they tap into something dark, enigmatic, perhaps primal.  Even jazz harp has never sounded like this before. Whiting has vision, and it’s beguiling.

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