Collins / Allvin Jazz Quartet

Jazz from the Shamrock Shore, Banshee

Truly unique and special! Penny whistle, harp, lap harp, Irish flute, saxophones, percussion and string bass fused in haunting and alluring compositions and played by a quartet of outstanding, multi-experienced musicians. The quartet combines the compositional talent of Christopher Collins, woodwind player and Kerstin Allvin, harpist, both writing for their respective instruments and accompanied by Jeff Halsey on bass and David Taylor playing drums and percussion. The music is refreshing and innovative and draws from each musician’s varied backgrounds in jazz and classical music.

Christopher Collins and Kerstin Allvin, first performed together in 2002 when they premiered the jazz quartet at the Flint Institute of Arts chamber music series. Christopher then invited Kerstin to play with his ensemble, Jazz From the Shamrock Shore, which artistically combined the instrumentation, musical vocabulary and repertoir of the Irish folk tradition with American Jazz. The group performed annually at venues such as the Michigan Jazz Festival, The Detroit International Jazz Festival and various show houses in Detroit.

Currently, both artists have expanded their performances and recordings to a worldwide audience. For this season they have combined their experiences to produce and compose music filled with fresh new ideas, colors and sounds.


Review

Harpist Strikes Tuneful Jazz Strings

The Flint Journal, January 2002
By Laurence E. MacDonald, Contributing Writer

If one does not immediately associate the harp with jazz music, the truth is that there haven’t been very many jazz harpists. As if to correct that impression, Sunday’s Bray Gallery Concert at the Flint Institute of Arts presented a delightful program, “An Afternoon of Jazz,” featuring harpist Kerstin Allvin.

Allvin is no stranger to those who attend Flint Symphony concerts; she has been the Principal Harpist of the FSO for most of the past decade. Still, few in the large and enthusiastic Bray Gallery audience had heard Allvin playing jazz before. As Allvin explained during one of the informal introductions, her classical music training resulted in a career with symphony orchestras, but a longtime interest in jazz led in an opposite direction, one that produced very interesting results Sunday.

The program, which included a clever mixture of both familiar and unfamiliar selections, began with an Allvin original composition entitled “North Beach.” Here, as with most of the entries on the program, Allvin was joined by clarinetist Christopher Collins, bassist Jeff Halsey and percussionist Dan Maslanka. From a simple beginning with the sound of tom toms, Allvin added a delicate melodic line that was soon joined by the other two players. Collins then played a couple of free-wheeling improvisational clarinet passages while Allvin provided a chordal harp background. At times, Collins’ tone was a bit shrill, but he soon adopted a less bracing quality.
Allvin’s music set the tone for the concert, which continued with the first of two original works by Detroit musician James Hartway. His “Impressions of Childhood” added a swing-style flavor to the program, with both Allvin and Collins excelling in the improv department. Halsey also got into an improvisational mode in this piece, with delightful results.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was the five-movement suite “The Victorian Kitchen Garden.” Which Collins arranged from a British TV score by Paul Reade. In the opening prelude, Allvin’s soft harp sounds, without the benefit of any amplification, were somewhat overshadowed by Collins’ ingenious clarinet. His clever use of an upward sliding pitch enhanced his solo passages.

Of the other four movements, the finale, “Mists,” provided relaxing and very pleasant listening. When Collins moved toward the rear of the ensemble, the way was open for Maslanka to provide the afternoon’s most dynamic moment, a dynamic and boisterous drum solo.
The first half of the program also included tasteful jazz renditions of two familiar pieces, the Gabriel Faure “Pavane” and J.S. Bach’s “Wachet Auf.” In both, Collins excelled with expressive clarinet solos.

The second half of the program took on a Celtic flavor, with Allvin playing the smaller Celtic harp on a rendition of “Danny Boy,” with Collins switching to a low D pennywhistle. The versatile Collins also demonstrated his abilities as a tenor saxophonist on another Allvin original, “First Things First.”

Collins took the composer spotlight for the concluding three works. Of these, “The Swan’s Lullaby” was especially charming, with Collins playing a smaller variety of pennywhistle. Halsey also excelled with a nimble-fingered bass solo.

Saving the best for last, the group launched into “Mergaugh,” which included a wonderfully rapid-paced drumming sound, over which the ensemble improvised expertly. If Allvin sometimes took a back seat to the other musicians during the program, this may have been purposeful, since she surrounded herself with a trio of extremely talented and accomplished jazz musicians. The somewhat limited dynamics of the harp were a drawback at times. One simply could not always hear the harp above the sounds of the other three players.

Still, as a showcase for Allvin’s expanding skill as a jazz harpist, the concert provided a tasteful and altogether charming mixture of musical sounds. Judging by the reaction of the audience, the return of this group to Flint for another concert will be eagerly awaited.