The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby

The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby

The legendary jazz harpist's most enduring set, 'The Rubáiyát of Dorothy Ashby' reconfigures the template for jazz vocal albums, fusing hard bop with the sublime spiritualism Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders channeled in the '60s and '70s.

Artist: Dorothy Ashby

Genre: Jazz

Label: Verve

Release date:

Damn, this is THE one. We came across 'The Rubáiyát...' when Chicago diggers' goldmine Dusty Groove reissued it in the mid-'00s, and were shocked then how under-appreciated the album was. Years later, although its profile is still somewhat under the radar, its influence on contemporary sounds can't be understated. The brilliant Ayha Simone, who was spotted most recently on PAN's Asma Maroof, Patrick Belaga and Tapiwa Svosve full-length 'The Sport of Love', cites Ashby as a foundational influence, and listening back to her alchemical stew of style and substance, it's easy to hear why. Even back in the 1950s, when she released her aptly titled 'The Jazz Harpist' debut, her choice of instrument put her at odds with the rest of the jazz landscape. A run of hard bop records followed, before she began to fuse her characteristic playing with ideas and influences from further afield on 1968's 'Afro-Harping', her first collaboration with arranger Richard Evans. She teamed up with Evans again on 'The Rubáiyát...' and the pair twisted lavish exotica with Japanese koto plucks, rhythmic kalimba phrases and hypnotic Middle Eastern devotional music.  

There's a hint even of the dreamy, cinematic romanticism that anchored Joanna Newsom's Van Dyke Parks collaboration 'Ys' on opening track 'Myself When Young'. Ashby's ambitiousness lends her sounds a depth that many of her contemporaries lacked, and while her collision of elements made many of the era's jazz purists turn away, the music has aged like a fine wine. The rumbling proto-funk rhythms, the flurries of delicate plucks that sound like a fairytale from the distant past, the soaring, poetic vocals and the lilting music hall echoes that had already slipped into obscurity back then - it's a sound that feels foundational in an era that prioritizes genre flexibility and autobiographical soul-searching. Ashby's sensual spoken words open 'For Some We Loved' over koto sounds and choral wisps that quickly give way to tense, tom-heavy rhythms, curling oboe wails and most impressive, Fred Katz's dizzyingly hypnotic kalimba solo. Without care and attention, this dense assemblage of ideas would no doubt sound clumsy - we've certainly heard how awkward fusion can get - but Ashby and Evans manage to puzzle out a deft, celestial solution. 

Even the poppier, soul-fwd moments - like stand-out banger 'Drink', for example - are blessed with uncommon sensuality and softness, contrasting haunted library music twangs with Ashby's soaring vocals. But Ashby sounds most enthusiastic when she's pushing into outer realms, hammering her koto and speaking in seductive, inebriated tones on 'Joyful Grass and Grape', or deconstructing blunted Latin grooves on 'Heaven and Hell', a track that was revisited by Brooklyn vanguard Kai Baird in 2020. The album comes to a satisfying close on 'The Moving Finger', a groove-heavy cosmic chant that's so evocative it's been sampled by everyone from J Dilla and Madlib to Leon Vynehall and Donato Dozzy. You shouldn't need any more convincing - if you've not heard 'The Rubáiyát...' yet, treat yerself to a real one.

About the artist

Dorothy Jeanne Thompson, better known as Dorothy Ashby, was an American jazz harpist, singer and composer.

Regular price£28.00
Tax included. Shipping calculated at checkout.
  • Low stock - 1 item left
  • Inventory on the way

This Vinyl product is a:

  • Standard Pressing

Recently viewed