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Tina Harrod

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The Revolution Is Eternal

Tina Harrod
The Revolution Is Eternal

Temporary People

Tina Harrod
Temporary People

John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald

A dark-hued, womanly voice; assured in pitch and as powerful as a
train when called upon, it also has little chinks of vulnerability, so
one feels wooed by it.

Qantas Magazine

Harrod deserves supernova status.

John Shand, SMH 2008

Having firmly established herself as one of Australia's premier soul singers, Tina Harrod runs a risk when turning to jazzier material. She could join the long list of almosts and abject failures. But there's a crucial difference between  Harrod and most of her wannabe peers: she pours herself - every inch, sinew and synapse - into the songs, so the words throb with commitment rather than shudder with pretence.

'Round midnight is the big test. The apotheosis of the jazz ballad, it leaves nowhere to hide, so any singer failing to fully grapple with its genius and potency is left floundering. Harrod gives you goosebumps. It's as if she's singing about the last night of life, stretching vowels for telling timbral effect and sometimes letting her voice crack like a mirror held up to the soul.

This, her second album, begins with a much less convincing performance on Stevie Wonder's Big Brother, despite exceptional playing from her band (pianist Matt McMahon, bassist Jonathon Zwartz and drummer Hamish Stuart). The real work begins with Comes Love, when she shows she can not only emote and be sassy at the same time but that she knows how to drape the phrasing over the pulse so there is no sense of gravity.

Then she springs a surprise with Nick Drake's sad, dreamy River Man. The acoustic guitar amd strings of the original give way to a rolling drum figure played with mallets, which is widened by the bass, and then flecked with piano, while Harrod lilts across the top. It's a superb change of mood, a process continued when she digs into the bluesy glissandos of Feelin Good, a piece, like the rollicking CC Rider, straight from her comfort zone.

Two tunes from her first album (co-written with the late Jackie Orszaczky) are revisited for more naked readings  and the intensity glows with a blue flame on I Love You, Porgy, revealing the true beauty of her contralto when she lets the tone  billow on a held note. On Glory Box, she effortlessly combines her beefier side with an affecting vulnerability, underpinned by huge, growling bass notes. That vulnerability leaps out again on the timeless Don't Explain and Harrod doesn't need to. She can do this. She is one of the few.

Rhythms Magazine, 2008

I, Tina

New Zealand born Tina Harrod has had a year of contrasts so far. Her long-time partner and musical collaborator Jackie Orszaczky passed away in February this year - a massive loss personally to her but also one to the music community. Yet before he left, Jackie oversaw the work on Tina's superb album Worksongs, and through it his legacy lives on.

More recently Harrod has been touring with Jimmy Barnes and readying herself for the release of this, her second album, and some selected dates.

The new album is quite a contrast to her debut, Shacked Up In Paradise, which was very much in the funky mode of Orszaczky/Harrod outfit, The Grandmasters. That album featured guest spots from bassist Cornell Williams and guitarist Big 'D' Perkins from Jon Cleary's band (Cleary was a long time friend of Orszacky and Harrod)

Worksongs features some of Harrod's favourite songs and, as the title suggests, titles that she performs when she is doing her own gigs. The selection is eclectic - from Billie Holiday ('Don't Explain') to Stevie Wonder to Nick Drake ('Riverman') and even Bob Dylan ('I Shall Be Released'). There are also a requisite number of classics: 'CC Rider', 'Round Midnight', 'I Love You Porgy' along with several originals. The album confirms the long-held belief that Harrod is one of Australia's finest singers.

 "We wrote it together," she says of her collaboration with Oszaczky on Shacked Up In Paradise. "It sort of started off being my baby and we ended up writing it together. I just wanted Jack to be involved because it seemed like we were two peas in a pod. I would have an idea and I would take it to him and he would finish it. We came up with something kind of unique as a team and that's that album."

"This album Worksongs is just a bunch of tunes I play with my trio and the name comes from the fact that they are songs that I do when I go to work."

When I suggest to Harrod that this is more of a jazz album she quickly replies, "Well, yes, but I don't like to call it that. I don't know what I would call it. A bunch of tunes I like to sing?"

 "It's quite different, it's different yeah," she continues, "but it's just a reflection of the kind of music I like. I like all kinds of music."

Amazingly, the album was recorded in a single day, with Jonathon Swartz on upright bass, drummer Hamish Stuart and Matt McMahon on piano.

"We went into the studio and we recorded tunes that we play live on a regular basis," explains Harrod, "so if it took us any longer than a day I think there would be something wrong. We just went in there and did what we do in a live situation. we did a couple of takes of each song and then we chose the best ones."

"A big thing I learned from Jackie," she continues, "was not to get bogged down in myself and what I'm doing and listen to the big picture. So I think when you stop just listening to yourself and you listen to everything you get a different picture of the track of the tune you can move on a little bit quicker."

 Harrod says that Orszaczky was crucial in helping her decide the song choice for the album,.

"I wrote out a list of tunes that we were going to do and he was like "No, I don't think you should do that one!" she says.”I always listen to Jack; he always has really good ideas about what fits, why not and why. So he sort of helped me, he was in the studio on the day that we recorded and he was sort of wearing a bit of a producer's hat."

The she recalls what Orszaczky would say as they worked: "Ah, that's a great take! That's a great take! Why do you want to change that for? Don't change it! Why do you want to record that again, that was a great take! Okay, that was a great take everybody, lets move on!"

"He was a great," she adds. "We listened to every take and I would go to bed and he would stay up at night and go through all the tunes. I asked him to do it and he would go through them and tick what was a good take a why and he would write notes. The he would put the song lists together as well, the running order. That was one of the last things he did for me. It was beautiful."

"I feel like I'm only just beginning in that way," replies Harrod when I say that many people will be surprised that it is only her second solo album. "I have been working with Jack for a long time, 14 years, and we worked as a team. I built up my profile under his sort of wing. So now I think my life's changed, I'm going to do something now on my own.

"I just play songs I like," she says when I ask her whether the song list might reflect what she would sing at a gig. "Depending on the gig I will play songs that I think are appropriate but I will never play songs that I don't want to play. This bunch of tunes was basically came about through my love of Nina Simone - she's been a great inspiration to be over the years, I learnt alot about life from her."

"From listening to her? Or from reading about her?" I ask.

"Both," she answers, "but mainly listening to her. She had enormous depth as a performer and when I first heard her I couldn't beleive how anyone could be so deep. It knocked me over, it knocked me to six."

Harrod performs Bob Dylan's 'I Shall Be Released' in much the same style that Simone performed many Dylan songs, such as 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues.'

"That's one of her amazing songs," says Harrod when I mention 'Mississippi Goddam' and her ability to interpret Dylan. "I am just amazed by how she can take an already great tune and change a few chords and give it a different feel and sing it her way and make it quite a different song. But at the same time the song is still there and the essence has not changed - it's still a Bob Dylan tune, it's just another great way of expressing it. So I think she was a great artist because she could do that with anything she touched."

"It's hard to recognise these tunes," she continues of Simones craft. "The Beatles tunes she has covered (have) just killer arrangments. Ray Charles is the same - and not just those two but they spring to mind."

Perhaps an unusual choice on Worksongs is the Nick Drake classic, 'Riverman' which Harrod brings under her own spell.

"Jonathon Zwartz has alot to do with what we play," she explains, "He's so passionate about music and he's always giving me cd's full of great tracks.’Riverman' was on one. Actually it was always a favourite of Jack's, he loved Nick Drake. So of course I wanted to do it and when we recorded it we were listening back to the takes and Jack said: "Such a pretty tune that, really glad you got hold of that!"

"I like to get a song and pull it apart and see what we can make of it," continues Harrod, "and often these songs evolve on the gig and that's what happened with this trio. Everybody wants to take it outside a bit and I decided a couple of years ago I wanted to make more free music. I like to keep it fresh: I like to throw in new things. If it doesn't work we might abandon it. The whole thing about being in a band is if it's a great band and its saying something it's because of the chemistry, the chemistry is right and it's a force of nature when there is good chemistry."

Brad Syke, Australian Stage Online 2008

It's but a short time since the last passed. Maybe this was at least partly responsible for the emotional depths she plumbed and brought to the surface, for the edification of ears, heart and, yes, soul. On this level, it doesn't matter what she sings, it's what she does with it (to paraphrase The Castle). And, surely, this must be the test of the singer's singer, which she unquestionably is. Where does it come from? Well, since she comes from New Zealand, perhaps she's benefited from the Maori tradition. Or her father's Fijian heritage. Or, back further still, her familial connections to Wales. Yet none of this seems nearly enough to explain her beguiling endowment.

At 5, I read, she was belting it out, in a church choir. Ah, gospel roots! Now we're talking. And she was awakened to 'black' music, per se. (But what's this, she also hooked into Saturday Night Fever? C'mon, let's not spoil the yarn!) Anyway, at a tender 17, she forded the ditch, to Sydney. All sorts of interesting moments ensued in the vibrant scene that prevailed, circa late '80s, including playing in Modern Man, with Andrew Klippel (son of seminal sculptor, Robert). If your nose & noodle survived that heady, coke-fuelled 'greed is good' era, you might recall The Honeybees, a girl-group specialising (sensibly enough, for a trio) in three-part harmonies. Her penchant for the likes of Chaka Khan brought her to the attention of Jackie Orszaczky, then fronting The Godmothers (and vice-versa). They fell for each other, musically and romantically, &, it was a marriage made in heaven. But I digress; if only to suggest a picture, a pattern, a backdrop, to begin to account for the phenomenon that is, or ought be, Tina Harrod.

Last night served as one of a series of launches for her second solo album, Worksongs; an apt title, implying all the pathos and feeling of which she's capable; (I'd say effortlessly so: I'm sure it sounds effortless, but my suspicion is anything that sounds so authentic and wrenching must take a corresponding toll). On it, apparently, she makes an eclectic selection cohesive, with the unmistakably kettle-cooked, whiskey-smooth, smoky, velvety, rich, chocolate Harrod stamp (no wonder they named a superlative store after her). Her perfectly contoured, cultivated and controlled instrument (even when 'out of control') crosses genres, from a very jazzed, yet utterly undiluted take on Stevie Wonder's edgy, politicised, no-hold-barred black-and-proud Big Brother, to Nick Drake's enchanting Riverman; Billie Holiday's sad, sardonic Comes Love (Brown-Stept-Tobias), to Monk's sultry Round Midnight. And so it goes. Whether penned by Dylan or Newley, sung by Ma Rainey or Nina Simone, Harrod reconstructs and reinvents everything, to make it her own. This not through any musical megalomania, but inevitable talent. TH is the kind that covers not, but remakes, in her own image. In documenting her taste in adoptions, let's not forget her skill in compositions, such as a masterful reworking of Such A Long Way Home. And let's not mistake her for a playsafe singer: what about a pleading rendition of Portishead's Glory Box?

When I talk about Tina Harrod, incidentally, I mean the inseparable quartet that includes the robustly finessed Hamish Stuart, on drums & percussion, empathic Jonathon Zwartz, on upright bass, and sublime Matt McMahon on acoustic and electric pianos. McMahon's meanderings, above all, tinkle and twinkle like so many stars in the night sky. None have to dress to impress: they add a whole, other dimension to Tina's performance, which is saying quite something.

If I'm not mistaken, we heard all her Worksongs and bore witness to some of the love, blood, sweat and tears which have gone into making them. We also heard Here Comes The Sun & To Love Somebody, with a Motown makeover.

You don't know what it's like, to love somebody, the way I love Tina Harrod. Unless you've heard her, of course.

John McBeath, Weekend Australian 2008

Holiday Spirit Informs A Classy Work-Out
Unusually for a jazz flavoured work, this album has received considerable publicity and airplay, for several reasons. Soon after this recording, Sydney vocalist Tina Harrod’s musical and life partner Jackie Orszaczky lost his battle with cancer, in February. Harrod and Orszaczky were the formidable vocal front of Orszaczky’s renowned soul group The Grandmasters. Since 2002 Harrod has been concentrating more on a jazz repertoire, working live and perfecting her integration with pianist Matt McMahon’s mastery trio, which does much more than provide backing on this, their first album together. The album is beautifully recorded and mixed, an exquisite production. From the opening track, Stevie Wonder’s Big Brother, premonitory piano chords over Hamish Stuart’s elegantly ringing cymbals, grounded by the deep moan of Jonathon Zwartz’s bass, announce a rich musicality. When Harrod’s voice arrives, her strong contralto leaps into the song with the force of a blow to the abdomen. It’s the power of Nina Simone with the expression of Billy Holiday, yet Harrod’s individuality is never compromised. McMahon’s piano solo holds the mood perfectly while bass and drums underscore, support and embellish with quick thinking intelligence. While Orszaczky does not appear on Harrod’s album, he was present for the recording, and two of the couple’s compositions are included. One of these, Such a Long Way Home, tells the story of Harrod’s childhood in New Zealand. I Love You, Porgy from Porgy and Bess demonstrate Harrod’s range and interpretive feeling while revealing the important component of fragility, the desirable modulation of her forcefulness. The album concludes with the ballad Don’t Explain, a tribute to it’s composer, Holiday, delivered with consummate timing, an aching understanding of its love betrayed lyrics and pitch perfect tonality.

Bernard Zuel, Spectrum SMH 2008

A deep connection to the heart of song Meet the best R& B singer you’ve never heard of. There are really only two great Australian soul and R&B singers: Renee Geyer and Tina Harrod. Plenty of pretenders have offered themselves over the years but either they’ve lacked the power and technique or the finesse and ability to live the emotion in the songs and really compete with these two giants.
However, while Geyer is a bona fide legend with nearly 40 years in the public eye, the younger Harrod is much less well-known.
Part of that is because until a month ago she had only released one solo album in a 20-year career, her reputation instead built on years singing with the various soul-funk bands of her long-time musical and personal partner, Jackie Orszaczky, who died this year.
What is obvious to anyone hearing the rich sensuality and personality in Harrods singing for the first time is that this is someone who connects with the song more deeply than ordinary singers.

Justin Grey, Timeoff 2009

Since her late 80s stints with Modern Man and Honey Bees through to her early 90s period performing with the acclaimed Jackie Orszaczky-led The Grandmasters, New Zealand-born singer Tina Harrod has in varying incarnations been a mainstay on the Australian jazz/soul scene for two decades. Accordingly, it comes as somewhat of a surprise then that Worksongs is only Harrod’s second solo outing to date.
Recorded with the backing of a trio featuring pianist Matt McMahon, bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Hamish Stuart, Worksongs sees Harrod lend her enviable delivery to a surprisingly broad selection of tunes, both original and interpreted. While including originals ‘Such A Long Way Home’ and ‘Love & Glory’ – co-written by Harrod and Orszaczky and featured in different variations on Harrod’s debut album – Worksongs’ best moments come when Harrod steps out of her comfort zone and tackles a number of unexpected covers. The album opens with a reworking of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Big Brother’, which gently purrs on the back of Harrod’s silky croon and some effortlessly lingering piano. Elsewhere, Harrod tries her hand at Nick Drake’s ‘River Man’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’, turning the latter into a stripped-down, elegiac heartbreaker. But the best moment here comes out of leftfield with a resolute take on Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’. A number of jazz standards are also included on Worksongs, with the pick of the bunch being Billie Holiday’s ‘Don’t Explain’ and Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midight’.
Harrod has long been recognised for her natural talents; with its varied collection of tunes Worksongs deserves to be the album that entices a larger audience to embrace her superb voice. 

Jessica Nicholas, The Age 2009

IT WAS the music of Nina Simone that first inspired Tina Harrod (one of Australia's most respected soul singers) to start exploring a more jazz-based repertoire. What particularly captivated Harrod was the breadth of Simone's musical sources and the inventiveness of her arrangements — and it's precisely these qualities that underpin Harrod's own strengths in a jazz setting.

Her terrific 2008 CD Worksongs featured a handful of jazz standards, but also reimagined tunes by Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Portishead and Nick Drake. Portishead's Glory Box set the scene for Sunday night's concert at Bennetts Lane, as Harrod's wonderfully grainy vocals sank into the slow-burn swagger her band established.

And what a band it is: three superb Sydney jazz players (pianist Matt McMahon, bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Hamish Stuart) who form a supremely empathetic backdrop for Harrod without ever becoming acoustic wallpaper. After six years together, the trio functions so naturally that McMahon's piano solos often sound more like spontaneous conversations with Zwartz's intuitive counterpoint and Stuart's buoyant cross-rhythms.

This was the first time I had seen Harrod in concert as a solo artist, and what struck me most powerfully was the aura of authenticity that surrounds her as she sings. Her world feels very real. It's not a fairytale world of happy ever after, nor a world of melodramatic, overly emotional outpourings. But there is emotion — the sense of a life fully lived, and a willingness to expose the frailties and yearnings of the characters she inhabits onstage.

Among the night's highlights were a tender, lilting version of Mr Bojangles; a hushed and beautifully world-weary Round Midnight; and a new original tune, Hurry, indicating the riches that lie ahead as Harrod continues on her voyage of jazz-oriented expansion.