Speaking from Greece on the phone earlier today in the wake of the release of the wah-wah soaked 'In Cairo/Grandma's Coat' the first single from Passing By which certainly resonated (pun intended) with us and featured recently in the marlbank podcast on Spotify. Maria-Christina says that the full record is to be released in early-November with a gig in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall plus further touring. In terms of what she means by ''passing by'' the classically trained harpist says it's the sense of passing through life and that ''we're just a small part of the universe.''
Asked whether it was luck or judgement that began the trio in which Harper (and let's not even get into notions of nominative determinism given her surname) joined by the spiritual jazz saxophonist Josephine Davies and the Neil Cowley Trio drummer Evan Jenkins, MC says a little gnomically: ''The concept of luck is a big discussion. But it definitely happened in stressful circumstances.''
That stress was certainly a pervasively human factor during all the Lockdowns. Davies and Jenkins were recommended by friends and the whole story of the album was partly a Covid era flight from MC's long time London home to the seaside environment of Hastings in East Sussex and where the album was recorded. Maria-Christina finds Hastings ''so beautiful'' and feels ''the community of friends'' in the town is so important to her. She had prior to Passing By worked with producer James McMillan on ''some songs'' - he had produced another Hastings based jazz musician singer Liane Carroll's classic 2015 album Seaside (2015) - and describes his approach in their work together with the trio at the two-day recording session at his studio Quiet Money as ''open'' and that he ''really knows what he's doing.'' Maria-Christina was in on the mix done some days after the recording. And then James did the mastering himself later.
The Harper trio, l-r: Evan Jenkins, Maria-Christina Harper, Josephine Davies
Nowadays, says the Greek born Harper who has Egyptian roots, she doesn't play classical music. ''I avoid classical concerts!'' But in the past she held a position with the Athens Symphony Orchestra having earlier studied at London's Royal Academy of Music.
She later became interested in jazz through her studies in music therapy and has also gigged and recorded under the moniker MC and the 7 Pedals on Gluten Free - a puntastic wheeze given the harp has 7 foot pedals to change the pitches of its 47 strings and it's mainly a solo project although Maria-Christina would gig occasionally with a guest. She says while a classical player she was not able to access the compositional part of her artistry at all and certainly the tunes here duly distilled are impressively concise. She left it open for Davies who often doubles or paraphrases the traceries of the motivic ideas and Jenkins to extemporise on her tunes and their structures. And you certainly gain an engaging sense of looseness and flow. When Maria-Christina first started listening to jazz it was more guitar, sax or trumpet that she listened to not so much the totemic figures of the canon usually recognised these days as Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.
While the pieces are kept to around 7 minutes (''I don't want anyone getting bored,'' she says candidly) Maria-Christina expects playing expanded versions in a live playing situation - certainly ideal for a jazz performance live environment where long form counts for more. One piece 'A Greek in Spain' has several layers of meaning because in England given what she describes as her Mediterranean looks she is often mistaken for being Spanish and the piece also layers in the story of a middle aged Greek man with no money playing the bouzouki, falling asleep and dreaming that he is in the middle of a Spanish fiesta! Refreshing in its approach Passing By will be released by Little Yellow Man Records this autumn and is a breath of fresh air.