Brandee Younger: Somewhere Different

Young moves the harp further out of the classical fold by putting it through some effects and playing all manner of vernacular music on it

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Harpist Brandee Young came to everyone’s attention in 2020 with her heartfelt lockdown album Force Majeure, a duet with bassist Dezron Douglas. Now with a big-label contract, she is on her sixth album. Douglas is with her on the first two tracks and produces this set, but the main bass duties are shared between Rashaan Carter and, on Beautiful Is Black and, best of all, Olivia Benson (as in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?), the great and unrelated Ron Carter, now a sprightly 84.

A stellar cast of other instrumentalists, notably Alan Mednard on drums, fill in where necessary. Younger’s mission is to demystify the perception of the harp as solely a classical instrument, using it here to play jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop, rap and funk, often gently amplifying and electronically treating her strings to gossamer effect.

Personally, I wanted to hear more of her alone, as on the lilting introduction to the title track and on Love & Struggle, for she is an adept musician playing a rarely heard instrument in jazz, but for much of the time she is somewhat lost in the glossy, soft-focused production.

The sleeve notes talk of the album’s two-sided (vinyl) structure, with a meditative and downtempo first half informed by the pandemic lockdown, and an idealistic, upbeat second half joined together by Reclamation and the title track forming an extended centrepiece. However, the CD follows a different order, losing grip of the set’s inner coherence.

To me, while delightful in places, this set is too bland, and too laid back, a disappointment from a musician I know has so much to offer. I’m glad we are not awarding stars any more.

Discography
Reclamation; Spirit U Will; Pretend; Somewhere Different; Love & Struggle; Beautiful Is Black; Olivia Benson; Tickled Pink (43.35)
Younger (hp); Maurice Brown (t); Chelsea Baratz (ts); Anne Drummond (f); Rashaan Carter (b, elb); Ron Carter (b); Dezron Douglas (elb); Alan Mednard (d, pc); Marcus Gilmore (d); Tarriona Ball (v). New York City, New Jersey, November 2020–February 2021.
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