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Brandee Younger 4tet: Live At The Breeding Ground

Dan Bilawsky By

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While a list of currently operating notables on nearly any given instrument could fill anywhere from a chapter to a book or two, a rundown of head-turning active jazz harpists might only fill out a very small portion of a leaflet. The most important among them—Latin jazz trailblazer Edmar Castaneda, refined role model Carol Robbins, and wide-ranging experimentalist Zeena Parkins, to name just a few—all manage to say something unique with the instrument, pushing it into places where it wasn't always welcome or expected before. Brandee Younger, who manages to do the same here with a post-Alice Coltrane/Dorothy Ashby brand of soulful and mystical jazz that's coated with a twenty-first century urban glaze, has earned her place on that short list.

On Live At The Breeding Ground, Younger taps into the spiritual well that fueled the art of both Ashby and Coltrane, yet she remains ever-cognizant of the time in which she lives and plays. Younger goes in a heavy and funky direction with some help from E.J. Strickland's hard-hitting drum work and Dezron Douglas' bubbly bass ("Soul Vibrations"), builds easy-to-absorb melodies atop slick foundational grooves ("Essence Of Ruby"), sparkles aside soprano saxophonist Stacy Dillard ("Hortense"), and creates music that's simultaneously powerful, sophisticated, hypnotic, and sly (Stanley Cowell's "EFFI").

Younger's most direct allusions to the aforementioned female harp pioneers—Coltrane's "Blue Nile"; Ashby's "Wax And Wane" and "Games"—serve as fitting tributes. "Blue Nile" veers close to Coltrane's version, speaking directly of the weighty blues spirit that exists within her legendary husband's music. The Ashby tunes offer more surprises. The free-your-mind aesthetic of the original "Wax and Wane" is washed away by a flow of energy, transforming the very nature of the piece, and the pseudo Afro-Brazilian vibe of Ashby's version of "Games" is replaced by a measured, searching sound that gives way to a more outwardly soulful statement.

While Younger, as mentioned, isn't alone in elevating and broadening her instrument's place in jazz, this album certainly indicates that she's carved out her own niche and done her part. She's as hip as harpists come.

Track Listing: Soul Vibration; Wax And Wane; Essence Of Ruby; Hortense; REspected Destroyer; Dames; Blue Nile; He Has A Name (Awareness); Effi.

Personnel: Brandee Younger: harp; Dezron Douglas: bass; E.J.Strickland: drums; Chelsea Baratz: tenor saxophone; Stacy Dillard: soprano saxophone.

Title: Live At The Breeding Ground | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced

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