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Genre-defying harpist and composer Brandee Younger is a singular voice on the modern music scene. After five superb releases, Younger ups the ante on her major-label debut, Somewhere Different. This soulful batch of eight originals, with its polished sound, showcases Younger’s mature writing and her confident playing maintains its thrilling spontaneity throughout.
Overlapping refrains open “Reclamation” with a laid-back swagger. Drummer Allan Mednard’s restless vamps and electric bassist Rashaan Carter’s muscular lines create a retro-sounding backdrop. Over this groove, the rest of the band — including expressive trumpeter Maurice Brown — interweaves its emotive performance. In addition to Younger’s charming turn in the spotlight, the tune includes passionate improvisations from flutist Anne Drummond and tenor saxophonist Chelsea Baratz.
The album’s densely layered cinematic ambiance conjures 1970s soul-jazz. Younger, however, is not simply imitating harpist predecessors such as Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby. Rather, she elegantly fuses various styles, creating her own dynamic mélange. On “Pretend,” for instance, guest vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball alternates smooth, silky singing with sharp, clever spoken-word recitation that perfectly complements the tune’s R&B-ish vibe.
The effervescent title track, meanwhile, is akin to a Western classical sonata, with Younger’s resonant strings shimmering melancholically. Drummer Marcus Gilmore’s programmed beats add a dramatic effect that’s delightfully irreverent and urbane, taking chamber music to the streets.
“Olivia Benson,” featuring bass maestro Ron Carter, is the most boppish piece. Younger’s phrases match Carter’s in sophistication, crackling with vibrancy as Mednard takes a thunderous solo that ushers in the concluding head.
In the span of little more than a decade, Younger has proven herself a unique and individualistic artist. With this enchanting album, she firmly establishes herself as a superlative, well-rounded musician. Somewhere Different is a brilliant milestone in a promising career. — Hrayr Attarian