Brandee Younger is a classically trained harp player who you may have heard guesting with the likes of Lauryn Hill, Common, Drake and the Roots. Under her own auspices, she has been developing a jazz vocabulary for the harp, building on the achievements of Adele Girard, Dorothy Ashby, Alice Coltrane and Zeena Parkins. As well as being an instrument dominated by women (Younger’s latterday peers include Laura Perrudin, Alina Bzhezhinska, Destiny Muhammad, Rachael Gladwin and Carol Robbins) the harp is notoriously difficult for non-harpists to write for, and its music has developed largely through the experimentation of its practitioners, who are able to exploit its unique melodic characteristics and variable decay times.
Younger has recorded several albums fronting her own quartet but it is in spartan settings that you really appreciate her technique and harmonic intelligence. Force Majeure was recorded in the New York home she shares with her husband, the bassist and producer Dezron Douglas, and follows on from duets that the couple livestreamed each Friday morning under lockdown. The harp and the double bass make great sonic partners: they reinforce each other through shared resonance, and Douglas’s serpentine, busy bass lines often sound like extensions of Younger’s harp.
For all the slapdash presentation and between-song banter, this is a delightful piece of chamber music. Modal jazz classics by Pharoah Sanders and the Coltranes rub shoulders with heavenly, harmonically rich readings of soul standards such as You Make Me Feel Brand New by the Stylistics and Clifton Davis’s Never Can Say Goodbye, with Younger lurching from modal flourishes to the more chromatic, bop-influenced improvisations of Dorothy Ashby. On Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work, Younger’s tumbling phrases sound like an African kora; on originals such as Toilet Paper Romance, she shimmers like an entire string section.
Force Majeure is released on 4 December on International Anthem records.
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