Album: Soul Awakening
Street Date: June 7, 2019
Surfacing six years after its completion in 2013, Soul Awakening was recorded in 2012 under the direction of producer and bassist Dezron Douglas, and embodies the ambition, vigor and aesthetic ideals of The Brandee Younger Quartet, at and since its inception. A benchmark recording that captures the group’s collective brilliance in its infancy, Soul Awakening is a synthesis of the people, places and moments that impacted Younger most, ahead of the album’s creation. The very first album recorded by the ensemble, Soul Awakening marks the birth of Brandee Younger’s artistic signature and the reemergence of the harp as a pillar of modern popular music. Brandee will be celebrating this new release at the Blue Note in New York City on May 21 and May 22.
Charged with the task of creating timeless works in a time of increasingly disposable content, Younger and Douglas, alongside drummer E.J. Strickland and saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Chelsea Baratz, enlist a who’s who of featured collaborators to best translate their ethos. In doing so, Soul Awakening becomes a full circle release for Younger that combines her band with two of her greatest mentors: saxophonists Antoine Roney and Ravi Coltrane. Other notable contributors include drummer Chris Beck, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, trumpeter Sean Jones, and vocalist Niia.
Created to convey the stirring energy of the group’s live show, Soul Awakening combines electric and acoustic sounds that showcase the quartet’s aptitude for freewheeling improvisation, spiritual jazz, and experimental music. Stand out tracks include the album opener, “Soulris”, which is penned by Dezron Douglas and is featured on his 2018 EP Black Lion, and the second track “Linda Lee”, which is named for Younger’s mother, Linda Lee McNease-Younger. Other highlights include “Respected Destroyer, a staple of The Soul Rebels’ repertoire which enlists trombonist Corey Wilcox, and the title track which includes flutist Nicole Camacho.
This collection of compositions blends seamlessly two of Younger’s popular live staples: “Games” by Dorothy Ashby and “Blue Nile” by Alice Coltrane –– both harpists and muses of Younger’s, whom she cites as profound influences. The ensemble also covers Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children” as a tribute to Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, daughter of famed musician and family friend Jimmy Greene and wife Nelba Marquez-Greene, who was a victim in the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Soul Awakening is an evergreen compilation of songs that convey the universal relevance and urgency of the 4tet’s core ideals — from social justice to creative freedom — and belie its years on the shelf. The release of this album follows the 2014 Live At The Breeding Ground, the harpist’s 2015 appearance as a featured artist on the Supreme Sonacy album from Revive Music/Blue Note Records and the subsequent full-length album Wax & Wane, which arrived in 2016. Most recently, Younger has been actively working, recording and touring with Makaya McCraven following the release of his new recording Universal Beings. She arranged and performed a track for Impulse Records’ latest release last year: A Day In The Life: Impressions of Pepper - a tribute to the Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The harpist has been keeping an active touring schedule as well. She recently completed a European tour with her trio as well as a solo tour across Alabama, Washington and Utah. She performed at a number high profile festivals including the Detroit Jazz Festival, John Coltrane Jazz & Blues Festival and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival as part of the Ravi Coltrane Quartet. She has also taken part in a number of university residencies; most recently at DePaul University in Chicago, Michigan State University in East Lansing, and University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Younger has collaborated with a number of high profile artists including Lauryn Hill, John Legend, Moses Sumney. Most recently, she performed on the Tonight Show with The Roots and producer Salaam Remi. An independent artist, Brandee has self-managed throughout the entirety of her career.
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Album: Wax & Wane
Street Date: February 19, 2016
Evoking the musical equivalent of rare gems, Brandee Younger emerges from the legacies of Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane as she ushers in a new era that celebrates the unsung titan of string instruments. Born during the REVIVE Music and Blue Note Records sessions for “Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1,” Younger’s latest album, “Wax & Wane” is a testament to her musical forebears that fuses classical technique with the persistent groove at the core of the Black music canon.
“‘Wax & Wane’ represents constant change -- back and forth,” says Younger. “We chose it as the title of the project because it is truly representative of the human experience, as an artist and individual. The high points and low points coloring the continuous struggle for balance at every phase of the journey exist - as they do in daily life - at the core of all of my work. ‘Wax and Wane’ is also the name of one of Dorothy Ashby’s compositions from her album ‘The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby’.”
With “Wax & Wane,” Brandee Younger is poised to take her place as a sonic tour de force and the latest innovator in a lineage of groundbreaking musical agitators leading to the rise of the harp. Spiritually transcendent and perennially fresh, “Wax & Wane” strikes a delicate balance between pushing the envelope and flat out breaking the mold. “I wanted to place the harp in a totally different context than what listeners are generally accustomed to and continue to position the harp in way that’s relevant today,” says Younger. With this seven track collection, Younger presents an altered universe where the fluttering polyphonic exchange of the harp and flute expand and contract against a dense rhythmic display."
For Soul Awakening
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
"Don’t expect a tame or relentlessly pretty aesthetic: the music is suffused with a joyful vigour that carries echoes of Pharoah Sanders’ great albums of 50 years ago, with the harp dancing in and out of such fiercer instruments as the drums and horns." Read the full review here.
RAUL DA GAMA
JAZZ DA GAMA
"...it is stellar recording by any standard which reveals just how mature a composer and performing artist Miss Younger was even seven years ago." Read the full review here.
CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE
“Soul Awakenings is a captivating work that showcases Younger’s maturity and innovation as a performer, composer, and bandleader.“
“The accompanists include numerous well-known players working at the top of their form, and the arrangements feel fresh thanks largely to the leadership role of Younger”
THE NEW YORKER
"Her radiant playing is as cogent on hip-hop and R&B albums as it is set against classical and jazz backdrops." Read the full feature here.
Ringer of the Week: "Younger’s touch on the harp ranges between celestial strums and evocative pizzicato’d musings." Read the full review here.
"The harp is still not a very common instrument in jazz, but Younger’s work will make many wish it was." Read the full review here.
"In terms of both production value and musical substance, it feels like an artifact of our moment: celestial, groove-forward, unabashed about its alchemies of style." Check out full exclusive NPR First Listen here.
Now’s the Time for Brandee Younger - check out the track premiere for "Soulris" here.
"The songs are mainly original compositions, which nicely accompanies the wonderful distinctiveness of the unique sound and approach here." Review here.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
"...she was well ahead of the curve; the enchanting record, which is set for release next month, contains a mix of mystic inquisition and breezy swagger that feels wholly au courant in 2019." Critics pick here.
PAUL DE BERROS
"The album's an evocative sampler of what this eclectic musician has to offer on an instrument with a short list of jazz practitioners." Check out the Hot Box reviews here.
"Brandee Younger has always managed to introduce dynamic textures and new dimensions to the music she guests on, which is simple to ascertain seeing as how in-demand her skills are. Hearing her magic play out over the course of ‘Soul Awakening’, playing host to a close-knit circle of musicians, is always going to be a real treat." Review here.
"Brandee Younger puts her own stamp on these compositions and magical moments, going from inward to the vastness of space, are instantly tracked down." Read the full review here.
"Her newest release, Soul Awakening captures her spirit and her voice nicely, even though it was recorded several years ago. The harp is such a magical instrument and Younger manages to invoke the ethereal wonder in the sound while bringing it to a really interesting and irresistible place." Review here.
DOING JAZZ PODCAST
A Soul Awakening with Harpist Brandee Younger - listen to full interview here.
"...the important thing to note about the album is its unassuming surety of purpose. Younger has internalized the spirit-filled lessons of her predecessors, reconciling them with her distinctly contemporary point of view." Read the full track feature for "Linda Lee" & listen here.
"The classically trained harpist and fearless improviser follows in the footsteps of jazz harpist pioneers Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane on her beautifully crafted fourth release as a leader while showing some decidedly modernist twists along the way. " Read the full "Women Influencing the Future of Jazz" feature here.
"In Younger’s hands, the instrument is as natural a fit for the genre as sax or drums, and Younger’s ability to give its sound a sense of presence and connectedness makes her one of the more compelling musicians in modern jazz." Review here.
"Brandee Younger does something that is unusual but compelling: She takes her harp to places where few others go, including jazz, soul and hip-hop, and is celebrated for the results." Track premiere here.
For Wax & Wane
JAZZ NIGHT IN AMERICA
NEW YORK TIMES
"Wax & Wane, Ms. Younger’s sleek, assured new album, luxuriates in groove: It’s the latest statement from a jazz generation weaned on hip-hop producers like J Dilla. But the album is also a genuflection, featuring three songs associated with Ms. Ashby, including the title track." Read full feature here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Brandee Younger retrofits the consciousness of the '70s with today's neo-soul attitude and musical mannerisms on this concise and fulfilling date. Her work is sleek and attractive, with bubbling beats, glossed-over saxophone and flute lines, and shimmering harp runs coalescing to create a finished product that's wholly refined. But the music also oozes raw energy. That pairing of the slick and strong seems to be what Younger is all about. " Full feature here.
"Wax & Wane is decidedly more funk than jazz; its opening track, “Soul Vibrations,” is built on a groove that recalls Sly & the Family Stone, and Younger blends into the ensemble at first, rather than immediately seizing the lead. But when she does begin to solo, her sound is otherworldly and science-fictional, and her ability to pluck individual notes at high speed is almost reminiscent of a fusion-era guitarist rather than the shimmering glissandos typical of the harp (though she does that, too)." Full feature here.
"Wax & Wane perfectly illustrates the originality of the creative thinking Younger - not just aa performer, but also as a composer." Full review here.
"While it will be up to the history books to judge the importance of Brandee Younger’s latest release, Wax & Wane, the album certainly sounds like a fresh interpretation of the role that the instrument can play in contemporary jazz." Full review here.
"Wax & Wane finds Brandee expanding upon what's considered "jazz." While predecessors like Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby worked within a certain aesthetic, Brandee's style is colored with different elements, including electronic, soul and funk influences." Full feature here.
RAUL DA GAMA
JAZZ DA GAMA
Brandee Younger’s 2016 disc Wax & Wanefeatures a marvellous performance by a truly great young artist. It brings the otherworldly beauty of the concert harp with the visceral excitement of jazz. Full review here.
"Whether you call it pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box, or just plain bending the rules, the boldly independent harpist and composer Brandee Younger creates a genre-crossing, smart, soulful, freewheeling, happy hybrid of hipness." Full feature here.
"Her sophomore project is described as a fusion of Jazz, Hip Hop & Funk and I call it a “must listen” for any fans of her idol Dorothy Ashby. We discuss her idols, the obstacles of toting a Harp to gigs, her upcoming album and much more!" Full feature here.
"it will refresh and delight your ears all around you - here you are in Eden! Soulful and delicious, mead is this sound that fills you with wellness." Full feature here.
SMOOTH JAZZ VIBES
"Walking in the footsteps of Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, harpist Brandee Younger released her sophomore album with Wax & Wane, following her great live set Live @ The Breeding Ground (2014) which was a loose and jazzy affair. This new studio album is much more focused and definitely funky, with nice flute by Anne Drummond. Check it out!" See here.
"With a non-stop groove that doesn't need to knock your socks off propelling things nicely, this is the real deal throughout that has it all on the ball. Excellent!" Read here.
"Brandee Younger is redefining her instrument for 21st Century. She pays respect to the original Afro-Harpist Dorothy Ashby with her recording Wax & Wane plus shares music from her indie hip hop collaborations with Mack Wilds and Common." Stream the full program here.
"Wax and Wane firmly situates Younger's shrewdly deployed celestial glissandos and nimble improvisation in sync with a crew of crack musicians, expertly balancing instinctive groove and finely honed virtuosity." Full feature here.
"Her lively pizzicato works well on a modern classical sound during “Ruby Echo” and she takes you to Asian atmospheres on the more spacious strums of “Ebony Haze.” A hint of Shaft gets grooving on “Soul Vibrations” and Hawkins delivers a heavy backbeat on “Essence of Ruby.” Sharp harp!" Full review here.
BIRD IS THE WORM
"Younger is showing all kinds of promise with her recordings to date, and it’s a seriously positive sign about the strength of the modern jazz scene that albums like Wax and Waneare getting a share of the spotlight." Full review here.
SMOOTH JAZZ DAILY
Younger is one of the few harpists who’ve established themselves as adept jazz players. “I wanted to place the harp in a totally different context than what listeners are generally accustomed to,” she says, “and continue to position the harp in a way that’s relevant today.” With Wax and Wane, she is doing exactly that." Full review here.
THE VILLAGE VOICE
"Somewhere beyond the fairy forests and angel wings that harp music traditionally evokes lies Brandee Younger’s rebellion. She’s classically trained, but a typical week for her is more likely to include a jazz jam session one night and a hip-hop studio recording the next afternoon. There’s no room for coyness in her music, although her eyes betray a glimmer of mischief when she plays — which she’s done for everyone from Alice Coltrane’s family to world- famous rappers." Full feature here.
"And, no, she doesn’t ignore the lineage of her instrument: Harpist Dorothy Ashby’s ‘60s transition from swing to soul jazz is present, as is Alice Coltrane’s ‘70s shift from avant-garde to spiritual jazz. But on Wax & Wane, Younger runs those influences through the lens of modern groove and present-day melodies. It’s why her singular sound is so very today, even as the echoes of her jazz harpist forebears reverberate through each tune." Full feature here.
"A solemn prayer to her afro-harping forebears, the album is a fanfare of flight and fancy that speaks to the possibility of Younger's apparent dexterity and the potential of every leader willing to burn the rule book in order to push the culture forward." Full feature here.
"What you do get from listening to this CD is the feeling that Younger is staking a very strong claim for the harp as solo instrument and making a clear statement of intent for her development as a major voice in jazz." Full feature here.
"Performer and venue are well matched when harpist Younger unfurls celestial tones in Hyde Park Union Church. Even apart from the setting, there’s no mistaking the spirituality at the core of Younger’s performance." Read the full performance review here.
NEW YORK TIMES
"Ms. Younger’s harp playing can be airy or imagistic, but it’s usually grounded in a groove. Over the past decade, she’s proven adept at bringing the instrument into contexts where it had rarely gone: jazz infused with neo-soul; springy post-bop; experiments alongside Afro-Cuban improvisers." Read the full critics pick here.