Brandee Younger, Somewhere Different Review
By Sylvannia Garutch
Brandee Younger is a jazz harpist, composer, educator, and concert curator that was awarded Rising Star Harpist in Downbeat Magazine’s 2020 Critics Poll. Younger has performed and recorded with Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Jack Dejohnette, Charlie Haden, Common, John Legend, The Roots, Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill. In 2020, she released her fifth album, Force Majeure, and her original composition “Hortense” was featured in the Netflix Concert-Documentary, Beyoncé: Homecoming. Younger earned her Bachelor of Music in Harp Performance at the Hartt School of Music and her Master of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University. She holds leadership positions on the advisory board of New Music USA, through the Apollo (theater) Young Patrons Steering Committee, and the American Harp Society, Inc., where she is Director at Large. In addition, younger organized “Divine Ella,” part of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s annual Women’s Jazz Festival as a concert curator. She also served as curator of the 2016 Harp On Park concert series, “highlighting the diversity of the harp and the contemporary importance of an ancient instrument,” and most recently coordinated “Her Song,” featuring the works of women composers, both for Arts Brookfield. Younger is now releasing her major-label debut, Somewhere Different, on the Impulse! Label.
Somewhere Different opens with “Reclamation,” which puts the harp front in center in a modern jazz groove setting. “It was important for me to thrust the harp forward in a non-traditional setting,” Younger says of her new album. “I made a conscious effort to make sure that the harp was a bit more present in this recording. It’s important for the instrument.” The shifts in the song’s mood from section to section and the horn orchestration also add to the diversity of the music. The horn section of Maurice Brown, trumpet; Chelsea Baratz, tenor saxophone; and Anne Drummond, flute, provide the texture. Younger’s solo is methodic in its development, and she has a beautiful rhythmic touch and articulation. There are elements of contemporary forms of R&B, hip-hop, rock, and funk interlaced with the music and different feels.
The title track is an extended composition and a departure from anything Younger has done to this point. Though not centered in traditional jazz, the song will not be foreign to jazz listeners. The lush soundscapes of classical-contemporary and jazz represent her newfound hybrid artistic liberty. The harp is a gorgeous instrument, and in this quasi Latin feel, it excels.
Somewhere Different sounds like something Younger has carried with her for some time now, which comes through in her playing more robust than ever. One can hear this as being closer to a live set, with the audience influencing the energy, though she is in the studio. Her compositions are anthemic and get under your skin. Somewhere Different is a formidable effort, putting this among the top projects of Younger’s still rising career.