Old and New Dreams
Harpist Brandee Younger’s soon-to-be-released album, Soul Awakening, has been a long time coming. Recorded in 2012 and completed in 2013, she intended it to be her quartet’s first release. Instead, it’s the fourth. It ended up on the shelf for several years while she put out her debut CD, Live at the Breeding Ground, followed by Supreme Sonacy and Wax & Wane.
Among the mix of material on Soul Awakening are compositions by legendary jazz harpists Dorothy Ashby (“Games”) and Alice Coltrane (“Blue Nile”). The title track is an original by the album’s bassist and producer Dezron Douglas; he also composed “Soulris,” featured on his 2018 EP, Black Lion.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Brandee says her original pieces are the ones she is least familiar with. “They’re some of the newer ones,” she notes. “I play ‘Blue Nile’ all the time, I’ll play it till I die. It’s like a reflex at this time. Some of the others I play regularly, and I’m revisiting the material I never play at all.”
Brandee’s composition “Love’s Prayer” is one of her favorite tracks on Soul Awakening. Dezron came up with the name for the piece in the studio when he got tired of referring to it by its track number. “I’m in the habit of writing tunes and not having a title,” she admits. When she does have a moniker for a tune, you can bet there’s a story behind the choice. The title “Respected Destroyer” came from inputting her brother’s name into the Wu-Tang Clan name generator (https://wutangclan.net/name-generator/). “Linda Lee” is titled for her mother. “Lee is her middle name, and I put her on blast with that: She doesn’t use it, and now everyone will know it,” Brandee says with a laugh. “My father said, ‘You wrote a song for your mother, I’m not jealous.’ I promise that eventually there will be a song named for everybody!”
She credits Dezron as the “catalyst behind the arranging, except for ‘Save the Children.’ I thought, What am I going to do with the harp on this one?” Brandee worked out her version of the Marvin Gaye classic shortly after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre.
“Sandy Hook completely shook us all. For the situation as a whole, there are no words for it,” Brandee says. “I always loved ‘Save the Children,’ and decided to do it. One of the things about the harp, you can’t sustain notes. You can play the melody, but you can’t sustain. It meant so much to me to do the song; as soon as I recorded the track, I called a singer friend in L.A., Niia, then sent the track to her to do the vocal.”
The piece is dedicated to the memory of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, a victim of the Sandy Hook carnage. The harpist is a long-time friend of the little girl’s parents, saxophonist Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, stretching back to their days at the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut.
In addition to vocalist Niia, other special guests on Soul Awakening include saxophonists Ravi Coltrane, Antoine Roney, trumpeters Freddie Hendrix and Sean Jones, and more. “Ravi and Antoine have been huge mentors for me and it means a lot to have them as part of this.”
Soul Awakening is set to drop early in June, but Brandee Younger and Friends have a pre-release gig scheduled for the Blue Note on May 21-22; this is her first time at the club as a leader. Joining her onstage will be Dezron, saxophonist Chelsea Baratz, flutist Anne Drummond and drummer Allan Mednard, along with special guests Ravi Coltrane and Nicholas Payton. In addition to the tunes from Soul Awakening, listeners can expect to hear material from Brandee’s earlier releases, as well as the debut of some brand-new compositions. Advance copies of the new CD will be available at the gig.
Photo Credit: Erin Patrice O’brien