The harp has come a long way in jazz since Casper Reardon introduced it to the idiom in the 1920s. Last night at the Wax Museum the Swiss Andreas Vollenweider, in his group's second U.S. concert, showed to a packed house that the instrument has been brought into the eclectic '80s.
Through a combination of instrument alteration and virtuoso skills, Vollenweider is able to elicit from the strings not only the classic sounds of a harp but make it sound like a piano, organ, guitar, banjo, mandolin and various percussion devices.
The three-number set was dominated by very pronounced beat supplied by drummer Walter Keiser and percussionist Pedro Haldemann and minimalist melodic development provided by the leader, synthesizer player Christoph Stiefel and reed player Budi Siebert.
Folk themes surfaced and became established as the main motif sometimes to hypnotic effect. Calm was juxtaposed with storm, tempos suddenly shifted, accordion and bass clarinet solos were featured.
It was very interesting music, at times ethereal, almost ghostly. In other passages it became nearly chaotic with polyrhythms over a thudding bass drum. Sometimes it seemed to be made up as it went along, then suddenly became as tight as a sonnet. But if, as a whole, the music meandered, the encore featuring an earthy and swinging solo by the harpist, established the quintet and especially its leader as a group to watch.