Jan Aldridge Clark’s debut recording entitled Anything But Ordinary is exactly what the title indicates; in fact, the CD is most unusual when attempting to categorize the album’s content. As a classically trained harpist, Jan has run the gamut of critical acclaim as one of the instrument’s most revered and dedicated musicians. After honing her craft at The Music Academy of West Santa Barbara, Indiana University Bloomington and Cal State University Los Angeles, Jan embarked upon a professional career to the delight of anyone within earshot of her unique talent and instrument. When examining Jan’s career as an artist, with time comes change and that is the inspiration behind Anything But Ordinary, an album that combines the influences of her classically-trained roots with the impact of popularized music and smooth jazz. Utilizing the inclusion of the soprano saxophone, cello, flute, bass as well as guitars, Jan Aldridge Clark has taken on a genre seldom seen by the harp as a frontline instrument. Although jazz is all about evolution and revolution, classical instruments such as the harp cello, violin and other tools are not normally seen in jazz; however, Jan has taken her instrument another further with her inclusion of cover songs and original tracks.
Although the harp is not considered to be a high impact type of instrument, Jan Aldridge Clark has provided a platform where she can be heard loud and clear as a musician. Her CD is filled with light and airy melodies, coupled with a tinge of underlying groove attachments. For the most part, Anything But Ordinary can be entertaining at times with a degree of associated predictability. When listening to Jan’s music, I was often lulled into waiting for something provocative to happen, something that would energize me and excite me in a jazzy kind of mood, but that never came. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the interaction between Jan and her choice of accompanying musicians, each one seemed to be a perfectly matched set of complementary tools of enlightened inspiration. Undeniably speaking, this collaborative effort on the part of Jan Aldridge Clark and her cast of sidemen do well as a collective. Any shortcomings attached to the idea of the harp been seen as a jazz instrument can be placed in the background.Anything But Ordinary proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that jazz is in a constant state of change, especially when given a platform to draw upon. Although Jan Aldridge Clark appears to be a superb musician in her own right, as a jazz musician she should make every effort to rise above the ordinary as the album’s title implies. Jazz is not bound by tradition or instrument type; however, the genre is meant to have an impact. Whenever an unusual instrument is introduced into the jazz arena, there should always be something that stands out in the mind of the listener. Take the koto a Japanese harp as an example, one of the most unique and unusual sounding instruments in contemporary jazz. It like any other instrument of its type is not often seen or heard in jazz. Whenever June Kuramoto of the group Hiroshima plays or records, she and her harp leave a definite as well as a lasting impression, which has allowed June to become one of contemporary jazz’s premier musicians. If Jan Aldridge Clark is planning on embarking upon a career in jazz, she should establish a groove that is infectious and tantalizing; otherwise, she will become one of any number of so-called good musicians calling themselves jazz artists. As stated earlier, in my estimation this lady is a superb harpist; however, as a jazz influence she should dig a little deeper than the norm. She should also be willing to take chances by stepping outside of the box every now and again to flex her talents as an an artist. Having made that statement, I still find Anything But Ordinary a complimentary effort, one that is relaxing and thought-provoking in an intellectual kind of way. Given the opportunity and time to develop, Jan Aldridge Clark will definitely rise above the fray as one of jazz’s finest innovators.