By Paul de Barros | Published August 2019
Soul Awakening was recorded seven years ago, when classically trained harpist Brandee Younger still was in her 20s. Unsure at first about the project, then distracted by an ascendant career—she’s now a festival regular and her music appears in the Beyoncé doc, Homecoming—Younger made the choice to release the album now. Though it doesn’t showcase her solo chops nearly enough, the album’s an evocative sampler of what this eclectic musician has to offer on an instrument with a short list of jazz practitioners.
The transcendental spirit of Alice Coltrane flows through the album like an electric current, from the first celestial arpeggios of producer-bassist Dezron Douglas’ intense opener, “Soulris,” to the pulsing Coltrane classic that closes the set, “Blue Nile,” where Younger swings and sparkles, creating a koto-like ring by plucking individual high strings with force. Ravi Coltrane is here, too, his buzzing tenor and steadfast focus adding gravity to Younger’s beautiful original “Love’s Prayer.” The harpist also nods to Dorothy Ashby with a smoothed-out rendition of her jaunty, poppish “Games.”
Showcasing others—a ferocious Antoine Roney, a dramatic Sean Jones and a sultry Niia, who sings Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children,” plus welcome contributions from instrumentalists Chelsea Baratz and Nicole Camacho—could be read as overly modest. But creating such a variety of well-executed jazz, soul and pop environments for fellow musicians also is a confident announcement by an artist who promises to bring new dimensions to her instrument.
Soul Awakening: Soulris; Linda Lee; Love’s Prayer; Respected Destroyer; Games; Save The Children; Soul Awakening; Blue Nile. (44:38)
Personnel: Brandee Younger, harp; Ravi Coltrane (1, 3), Chelsea Baratz (2, 4, 7), Antoine Roney (7, 8), tenor saxophone; Stacy Dillard, soprano saxophone (7, 8); Freddie Hendrix (2), Sean Jones (4), trumpet; Corey Wilcox, trombone (4); Nicole Camacho, flute (7); Dezron Douglas, bass; E. J. Strickland, Chris Beck (1, 3), drums; Niia, vocals (6).