Brandee Younger: Brand New Life

Harpist inspired by hip-hop sampling of Dorothy Ashby plays solo, in small groups, over hip-hop and on sometimes syrupy soft-soul backgrounds


Dorothy Ashby is often overlooked today, but as a black American harpist and composer in the 1950s and 1960s – she later moved into R&B and world music – she properly established the harp as an improvising instrument in jazz and elevated it from novelty status or use in background orchestration to a frontline mainstay that could hold its own with saxophones and pianos.

Ashby’s work has become increasingly influential today, and has served as a great inspiration to Brandee Younger, undoubtedly one of the finest jazz harpists of our day. Younger was first introduced to Ashby through the works of those hip-hop artists who have sampled her music: it is right that some of them feature on this album.

Brand New Life celebrates Ashby’s music, presenting her previously unrecorded You’re A Girl For One Man Only alongside the better-known Livin’ And Lovin’ In My Own Way, Running Game and Dust. Add in a Michel Legrand classic, a great song by Stevie Wonder, and couple by Younger, and we have a strong roster of songs.

The opening You’re A Girl is quiet perfection, just the gentle plucking of the harp against minimal bass and drums, with added vibes on the chorus. It’s music to make you smile, as does the unaccompanied Younger solo that is Come Live With Me, a tentative and alluring romance, and the simple beauty of Ashby’s own Running Game.

Such tracks sit alongside a series of soft-soul and hip-hop productions, the title track in particular distinguished by the Minnie Ripperton-style vocals of Mumu Fresh. The Windmills Of Your Mind is the one duff outing, too syrupy for words, for such smooth productions turn attention away from the glorious harp performances, which are never forceful or strained, but flow with elegant ease, and from Ashby’s always strong compositions.

If this album does something to rescue Dorothy Ashby from polite oblivion, then it has done its job well.

You’re A Girl For One Man Only; Brand New Life; Come Live With Me; Livin’ And Lovin’ In My Own Way; Running Game Intro; Running Game; Moving Target; Dust; The Windmills Of Your Mind; If It’s Magic (38.01)
Younger (hp); plus DeSean Jones (f); Yuri Popowycz (strings); Linda McNease-Younger, Sharon McNease-Griggs, Meshell N’degeocello, Mumu Fresh (v). Joel Ross (vib, x); Rashaan Carter, Junius Paul (b); Makaya McCraven (d, pc); Pete Rock, 9th Wonder (d programming). Chicago, 4–6 March 2022.