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In the history of jazz harp — from Casper Reardon and Adele Girard to Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane — there have been occasional harp-bass-drums trios, but virtually no duet albums of harp and string bass. At least until now.
Bassist Dezron Douglas and harpist Brandee Younger, both of whom are normally rather busy in the New York area, made the most of the quarantine of 2020 by performing weekly live-streamed shows from their living room in Harlem each Friday morning. Ten of their best performances, complete with brief announcements and spoken interludes, have now been released on the album Force Majeure, also the title of their streaming jazz brunch. The set opens with a read of Alice Coltrane’s “Gospel Trane,” which shows that, in the right hands, a harp can swing. “Equinox,” by Alice’s husband John, presents the harpist playing the melody over catchy bass riffs. On the Pharoah Sanders/Leon Thomas hit “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” Douglas plays the familiar bass pattern while Younger adds color. The joyful “Sing” features fine solos by both musicians.
One of the main reasons for Force Majeure’s success, other than the obvious affection that the musicians (who met in 2001) have for one other, is the way that they shift roles from song to song while blending together. On the pretty melody of “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” they alternate the lead and the spotlight throughout. During “Never Can Say Goodbye,” Younger plays the theme while Douglas makes musical comments and supplies countermelodies. Sting’s “Inshallah” is presented as an unaccompanied bass feature, and the other selections comprise Kate Bush’s melodic ballad “This Woman’s Work,” John Coltrane’s “Wise One,” and the duo’s original which closes every set, “Toilet Paper Romance.”
Uniqueness aside, Force Majeure is filled with beautiful and creative music.