Brandee Younger ‘Soul Awakening’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

‘Soul Awakening’ is the brand new sophomore album release from classically trained harpist Brandee Younger.

With each passing year, the Hempstead, New York, native seems to see her star increasingly rise – having graduated from the University of Hartford and New York University with degrees in Harp Performance and Music Performance and Composition respectively, Younger has gone on to adapt and hone her skills by recording and performing with jazz heavyweights including saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Marcus Strickland, and pianist Robert Glasper. Conversely, Younger’s talents have also managed to permeate more commercial realms through varied appearances on projects by R&B singer Cassie, rapper Common and singer/songwriter John Legend. Even earlier this year, her work on ‘Constellate’ by long-time collaborators Tensei breathed remarkable life into the awesome single ‘Liquid Tongues’.

Such is Younger’s inimitable touch that a slot on Revive Music’s all-star project ‘Supreme Sonacy’ in 2015 was more than justified and saw her majestical playing share billing with names Marc Cary, Ray Angry and Keyon Harrold, and subsequently went on to spawn the creation of her debut full-length ‘Wax and Wane’ the following year.

And while ‘Supreme Sonacy’ officially serves as the sequel to that album, ‘Soul Awakening’ is actually that project’s predecessor having been recorded in 2012. Much like ‘Wax and Wane’ having been produced by a colossal name in saxophonist Casey Benjamin, ‘Soul Awakening’ sees Brandee enlist talent of an equal stature with bassist Dezron Douglas leading the way with a project structured around a core unit of long-time collaborators and members of the Brandee Younger 4tet including drummer E.J. Strickland (David Gilmore, Manuel Valera), saxophonists Chelsea Baratz (Trevor Lawrence Jr, Gordon Chambers) and Stacy Dillard (Theo Croker, Willie Jones III) and Douglas himself on bass. Big names including trumpeter Sean Jones guests on ‘Respected Destroyer’ while Ravi Coltrane features on ‘Love’s Prayer’ and the album’s opening number – which also boasts the distinction of being the project’s exquisite highlight – ‘Soulris’.

‘Lindalee’ marks another incredible high as does the appearance of vocalist Niia Bertino on the imaginative reinterpretation of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Save The Children’ (from his seminal ‘What’s Going On’ album, 1971). It does leave the notion that Niia’s contribution to at least one further track would have been welcome and should you, like me, be inclined to hear just that little more from the Younger/Niia collaboration then I’d urge you to check out Younger’s 2011 four-track EP ‘Prelude’ available through her Bandcamp page as well.

Brandee Younger has always managed to introduce dynamic textures and new dimensions to the music she guests on, which is simple to ascertain seeing as how in-demand her skills are. Hearing her magic play out over the course of ‘Soul Awakening’, playing host to a close-knit circle of musicians, is always going to be a real treat.

Imran Mirza