Harpist Brandee Younger Blends Genres, Makes Impulse! Debut with ‘Somewhere Different’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Harpist Brandee Younger is well known in contemporary jazz circles as both a concert soloist and valued session musician.  With four or five smaller label albums as a leader, Younger makes the big leap to a major label, the prestigious and historic Impulse! You’ve more than likely heard Younger before as her versatility across jazz, R&B, hip-hop, rock, classical, and funk has led her to work with jazz artists such as Lakecia Benjamin, Ravi Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Maxwell, John Legend, Common, and Lauryn Hill. Her original composition “Hortense” was also featured in the Beyoncé documentary Homecoming. Certainly, she does not have much competition playing an instrument more often associated with classical music, but the fact remains, like Shabaka Hutchings, her label mate, she is one of the most respected artists in Black music today. While it may be tempting to compare her to the other famous female of the instrument, Alice Coltrane, Younger is entirely different although both share an experimental approach.

The album features her working trio of Allan Mednard (drums) and Rashann Carter (bass) with frequent collaborators – flutist Anne Drummond, trumpeter Maurice Brown, tenor saxophonist Chelsea Baratz, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Legendary bassist Ron Carter even contributes as does guest vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball from Tank and the Bangas. Her longtime musical partner Dezron Douglas produced and played the pulsating bass on the opening “Reclamation,” a tune where the drums give it a rock beat across which the harp and Drummond’s flute soar.  Unlike her session contributions, her harp stands prominently in the mix. The undulating waves of harp and flute give “Spirit U Will” a contemplative feel, but the tune builds to include the horns and more spirited drumming.

“Tank” sings and raps on “Pretend,” slipping into some salacious lyrics about a romantic affair that she wants rekindled. The highly melodic title track is airy and bright as if celebrating a sunny day or a celebratory moment that emerged from a daydream while the insistent drumbeats give it an urban sheen. “Love & Struggle” reads like an invigorating conversation between the harp and drums until Carter steps out on a bass solo and then adds to the rhythm section where both Mednard and Gilmore stir it up with a smattering of snare beats. 

The gorgeous “Black Is Beautiful” features Ron Carter on the bowed bass with deft cymbal work from Mednard that accent Younger’s shimmering often sustained harp tones. “Olivia Benson” also has Ron Carter, this time plucking the bass, in a more up-tempo delivery on yet another mashup of jazz and R&B. She closes with the single, “Tickled Pink,” which in many ways is like a bookend to “Reclamation.”

Having seen Younger at Newport, she has an engaging presence and performs an eclectic set live just as she does here in her auspicious debut. 



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