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Jazzmeia Horn at Jazz Alley

Jazzmeia Horn at Jazz Alley Courtesy Jim Levitt
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Jazzmeia Horn
Jazz Alley
Seattle, WA
December 7, 2021

The arrival of jazz vocalist Jazzmeia Horn in Seattle for a two-day run at Jazz Alley represented in many ways, the return of international touring jazz artists to the esteemed and historic venue, after a fall that featured resident jazz artists and r&b stars. The second set of the stay on December 7 was seemingly a comfortable fit for the quartet, as they took a focused and reposed approach to Ms. Horn's adept arrangements for quartet from her latest release Dear Love (2021, Empress Legacy), featuring her Gil Evans-esque big band, Her Noble Force.

The quartet featured pianist Keith Brown, with whom Horn has formed an intuitive musical bond, bassist Kristopher Frunn and drummer Russell Carter. The trio proved to be formidable, operating in space and responding in the moment amidst Horn's sparse arrangements. Such was the case with the opener. "He Could Be Perfect for Me," with the band performing with the tell-tale quality of a group that has bonded on the road. Brown's relaxed, swinging piano solo seemed to set the bar for the evening in terms of intimacy and energy. Horn improvised freely on the melody, her renowned vocal gymnastics easily moving from low to high register with remarkable control.

The swinging "Tight" followed, with Horn softly gliding into the first verse, followed by a vocal solo that moved from scatting and riffing, to trading fours with Brown. The qualities of her work that evoke images of the great Betty Carter became plainly evident. Though Horn does not possess the sheer power that Carter had, she has a sense of freedom and fearlessness that enables perilous adventures on the edge. Her tone is both sweet and strong, her approach increasingly original over time.

"Let Us," Horn's haunting melody from the new record, provided perhaps the evening's most intimate moment, her bond with pianist Brown illuminating this most intriguing melody. Horn's spoken narrative seemed like a personal conversation with her audience, expressed in intelligent prose and free verse. "Strive," the trademark piece of her new album played the role of emotional zenith for this performance, with Horn taking generous liberties with the melody. Her vocal solo on this song utilized the full spectrum of her sound, narrowing the gap between performer and audience, and resulting in the 300-member gathering to join her in singing the ethos of our time— strive to be free. Once again, her spoken narrative was a message of deep rooted unity.

The bass and voice intro into the standard,"East of the Sun, West of the Moon," found Horn seated next to the piano, weaving in and out of the well known melody with ease. In many ways, it represented the entire set—fresh, relaxed, relatable, with an abundance of listening going on. The stage didn't seem like the isle of separation usually perceived, as the quartet lured the Jazz Alley crowd into a house concert vibe. "Green Eyes" provided her most poignant moment, with the emotional lyrical quality of the tune translating into her solo work. Swinging her legs to the rhythm of the tune, Horn delivered with sheer artistry, offering daring forays into octave shattering falsetto, all with beautiful melodic subtleties.

Ending with "Free Your Mind," Horn exited the set just as she had entered— with an understated style that belies the modern blowtorch tendencies of many modern jazz singers. Her array of nonverbal sounds and intuitive sense of melody, her ability to deliver a lyric in alluring, traditional fashion and then completely flip the script, is what takes her music far beyond the page. It leaves the audience feeling that despite her formidable first three albums, they are hearing, seeing and feeling her music for the very first time.

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