Growing up on Long Island, harpist Brandee Younger was intent on forging a career in classical music when she stumbled upon an image of Dorothy Ashby, a harpist who introduced the instrument as a tool for jazz improvisation back in the hard-bop era before going on to make cosmic jazz-funk recordings at Cadet in the late 1960s which have since become classic sources for hip-hop producers. Younger soon discovered the music of Alice Coltrane, as well, but she continued to pursue classical training – as much as she had developed a connection to jazz, like many classical players she was afraid of improvising. Thankfully, over the years, that trepidation dissolved, and now Younger is not only the indisputable face of contemporary jazz harp, but she’s a key proponent of the instrument’s expanding, non-classical scope.
Over time Younger has proven that she’s a total musician, with an abiding interest in many stylistic strands. She’s done session work with R&B star John Legend, but she’s also performed with avant-garde legend Anthony Braxton. Considering how many younger jazz artists have embraced the production style of J Dilla—he was among the first to sample Ashby’s work—she’s connected with a new generation that helped forge her own sound with her self-released 2016 album Wax and Wane, produced by Robert Glasper associate Casey Benjamin. During the pandemic she began presenting streaming performances from her New York apartment with her bass-playing husband Dezron Douglas, and the best of those sessions were released on the terrific Force Majeure, a convivial set of standards and originals that cuts to the essence of her melodically generous style.
In 2021 Younger came home, in a sense, signing a deal with Impulse Records, the label that released much of Alice Coltrane’s music. Her album Somewhere Different, which was produced by her husband, turned plenty of heads with its lean no-nonsense elegance and sense of mission, deftly enfolding the various threads that have fired her creativity within a single, profound statement. As The Quietus wrote of the album, “There’s a pop snap to the production by Douglas, which presents the harpist’s improvisations atop grooves that roll, stutter, and glide. For most of the album Younger is supported only by bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Allan Mednard. Horns turn up as on the slinky opener ‘Reclamation’, but they’re mostly deployed as shading, although trumpeter Maurice Brown unspools a lengthy, electronics-kissed solo on ‘Spirit U Will.’ Veteran Ron Carter joins for a couple of tunes, but from the start it’s Younger in the spotlight, and the album seems well-positioned to pull in new listeners.”