All Harp—Globe Live
"Stickney has a touch like no other I\u2019ve heard."
The theme this time around is all about superior technique, attention to detail, and unquestionable virtuosity—and then what an artist does once they’ve got it all together. Park Stickney’s All Harp—Globe Live takes this reviewer from edge-of-her-seat-listening to Joanna Newsom to leaning back, a slight smile on her face, foot tapping, breathing deeply, and completely engaged from the heart.
Stickney has a touch like no other I’ve heard. He plays with the insouciance needed of a jazz musician and the elegance of a classical harpist. Chords—arpeggiated or blocked—are the give-away that you’re hearing a harp. We hear his Juilliard training, but melodically things feel as though the harp were resting on his knee. There’s a slight bending of the beat and the rhythm, a loosening of just which note is important in the line, and that suddenly makes a piece like Debussy Danses have an improvisatory flavor. That is the key to jazz and not something studied.
The album is deliciously intimate, all performed on an electro-acoustic harp. Stickney is most joyous in his own works beginning with the first track, “Swiss Miss,” with its come-hither flourishes and sonic world that bends the harp color to a more deep gamy electric flavor.
This is most noticeable with stunning results in Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” where I had to take at least five re-looks at the album to see if Stickney had anyone joining him for a duet on stage for this live recording.
Is Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” the most familiar—and cliché—hit of the ’70s? A suite that takes itself as seriously as a Liszt rhapsody, Stickney appears to approach it with his classical hat, flourishes, rubatos, and a cultivated dignity. Never has Freddy Mercury been so well-presented.
While my French needs a lot of work, I picked up at least a few words of Stickney’s description of “Surprise Corner” from “vacances en l’ouest; c’est vraiment!” The 6/8 dance meter and the searching, seeking melody in a minor key gives this short piece the wonder of discovery and surprise, though there was lots of laughter on the recording, and I am afraid I have no clue why.
No worries. Music being the universal language, Stickney got me toe-tapping again in “On n’est pas là pour se faire engueuler” (Google Translate helped this time: “it’s not for being yelled at,” though that feels a bit too literal). The electro part of the harp adds some percussive spice. Yummy.
Equally so in Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” Can you say “make-out music?” Stickney’s original “Fragile” touches the heart, while “Dirty Laundry Rag” tickles the funny bone. Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” whines with a Spaghetti Western’s sneer.
This is an enjoyable mix of familiar and new, intimate and charming, and all played by a master on what you’ll feel is an altogether new instrument.