Harpist Brandee Younger and her cohorts find a perfect balance in the repertoire that composes Soul Awakening, her fourth album as a leader, which was completed in 2013 but only now sees the light of the day. The lineup includes longtime collaborators such as saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Chelsea Baratz, drummer E.J. Strickland, and bassist Dezron Douglas, who produced the album. Additionally, there’s a bunch of special guests assisting the spiritual perspective of the bandleader’s music, always conducted with the intent to inspire.
The album astounds in its overture with Douglas-penned “Soulris”, a spiritual modal journey founded on a formidable bass/drums groove (the drummer here is Chris Beck) and suffused with those positive vibes associated with John and Alice Coltrane. Their son, Ravi Coltrane, is the tenorist here, blowing some well-timed outside notes that take us over the moon. His ardent post-bop influence is noticeable again on Younger’s “Loves Prayer”, a triple-metered exercise reflecting balladic tendencies and delivered at a medium tempo. Even in chilled out mode, the bandleader continues the excellent comping work, elongating the already sumptuous and sometimes wriggling sheets of sound.
“Linda Lee”, whose title refers to Younger’s mother, navigates in breezy modes, underlined by a smooth funk that seeks extra color in the interplay between Baratz and guest trumpeter Freddie Hendrix.
The colorful “Respected Destroyer” was many times included in the repertoire of New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels. Following the modest beauty of Younger’s harp, we find Baratz sharp articulations on tenor, and then the crisp, clear tone and range of trumpeter Sean Jones. Everything takes place under Strickland’s hip-hop-flavored groove.
Harpists Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane are paid tribute with renditions of their own pieces, “Games” and “Blue Nile”, respectively. The former is a sultry R&B piece with bluesy and Latin insinuations, whereas the latter finishes the program in modal jazz fashion with tenor man Antoine Roney maneuvering in the foreground.
Vocalist Niia interprets Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children” with a mix of cool intonation and soulful profundity. Depositing hopes in a better world, Younger included this tune as a homage to saxophone player Jimmy Greene’s late daughter, victimized in the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut. Expect deep, grooving electric bass lines, dreamy and crystalline harp moves, and an apt pulse with valid drum fills. At odds with this mood, the title track unrolls with uncompromising freedom. The bandleader designates Baratz, Dillard, and flutist Nicole Camacho as melodic colorists as she squeezes out a striking harmonization.
Brandee Younger puts her own stamp on these compositions and magical moments, going from inward to the vastness of space, are instantly tracked down. What the heck kept this splendid work on the shelf for so many years?