By: Hrayr Attarian, Chicago Jazz Magazine
CD Review: Brandee Younger “Soul Awakening”
Concert harpist Brandee Younger has taken her instrument out of its traditional Western classical niche and placed it in the vibrant spontaneity of modern improvisational music. In this, she follows in the footsteps of such intrepid artists as Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. Younger, though, doesn’t merely echo her auguste predecessors. She has her own unique voice and has forged a singularly exciting style.
A Lyon & Healy artist, Brandee enthralled Chicago jazz audiences through a series of innovative 2018 concerts sponsored by the Chicago-based harpmakers. Soul Awakening, her fourth release as a leader, reflects those performances: a captivating album that balances spirituality with slow, simmering passion and accessibility with exploration.
Several guest musicians, mostly saxophonists, appear on the various pieces—coloring each composition with their individual sounds. For instance, the opener “Soulris” features Ravi Coltrane’s expressive, reverberating tenor sax in a passionate and eloquent solo. Younger’s shimmering strings flutter and dance with agility over bassist (and producer) Dezron Douglas’ percolating vamps and drummer Chris Beck’s thunderous beats. The result is an ethereal and melancholic tune that brims with lyrical sensuality.
Younger demonstrates a cool elegance on such pieces as “Respected Destroyer.” Her hypnotic refrains mix with rumbling rhythms and the chorus of horns, creating a sublimely cinematic atmosphere. In addition to Younger’s visceral, moving, and intelligent extemporization, trumpeter Sean Jones takes center stage with his burnished tones and soulful swagger while saxophonist Chelsea Baratz showcases her sinewy, lithe lines with gusto and grace.
Perhaps the most intriguing moments of the recording appear on the title track. Over Younger’s resonant and dark strums, Baratz—together with soprano saxophonist Stacy Dillard and flutist Nicole Camacho—builds a crystalline sonic triangle. The four-way conversation that ensues is tense, delightfully angular, and provocative.
Soul Awakeningsis a captivating work that showcases Younger’s maturity and innovation as a performer, composer, and bandleader. The disc is uniformly stimulating from the first note to the last and is Younger’s best and most personal to date.