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Although efforts to fuse spoken-word performance with jazz have often resulted in calamitous failures, Dear Love, the third album by singer Jazzmeia Horn, largely avoids common pitfalls. Even when she speaks or sings clichés, she imbues her phrasing with such devotional urgency that listeners may forgive the mediocre poetry. Her Noble Force band, a varied ensemble that provides intuitive support, also deserves praise. Only the 11-minute “Strive (To Be),” an unevenly orchestrated piece with cloying rhymes and an overly general message, seems to sag. All other tracks with Horn entertain the ears, often thrillingly so. This album firmly establishes her as one of the jazz world’s most audacious and talented vocalists.
“Let Us (Take Our Time),” for example, provides a slow, syncopated melodic line — imagine Neal Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” with pockets of silence tossed in — that begins with song, transitions to spoken word (with trumpeter Freddie Hendricks artfully improvising in the background), then flows seamlessly into melody.
“Lover, Come Back to Me” showcases Horn’s infectious scatting, as does the swinger “He’s My Guy,” which includes stratospheric exultations that threaten to break the molecular integrity of glass. “Where We Are,” another tune that unites poetry and song, presents Horn in her most intimate settings — including an a cappella finish — and “Nia (Purpose),” with its lush orchestration and appropriately pleading alto solo by Bruce Williams, pulses with wistful desire.
An overtly political artist in keeping with Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone, Horn closes the album with trumpeting fanfare to announce Pastor E.J. Robinson on “Judah Rise,” followed by the funky “Where Is Freedom!?” In response to the question, the song concludes, “Freedom’s in your soul/Let your soul be free.” The poetry may not be grand, but the message sure is. — Sascha Feinstein