REVIEW: Brandee Younger Trio at Unterfahrt Munich

Brandee Younger at Unterfahrt.
Photo credit and copyright: Ralf Dombrowski


Brandee Younger Trio
(Unterfahrt Munich, 8th November 2016. Review by Ralf Dombrowski (*))

She was feeling quite nervous, she said. Brandee Younger explained that this was not just because she was playing at Unterfahrt for the first time, but above all because it was Election Day in the US. The onset of the morning will by now have confirmed to her that things in the forthcoming months and years will in all probability not be easier for her. Brandee Younger is a talented, intellectual, black woman, a jazz musician from New York, in other words part of the urban, free-spirited America, whose star is, to say the least, threatening to fade. She plays the concert harp, a piece of instrumental exotica, whose main role in the western music tradition is confined to serving up different textures in the orchestra pit.

So it is clear that Younger has quite a few battles to fight, some of them concerning the music, namely because the repertoire for jazz harp is quite so limited. She has done a lot to make it work for herself. For example she has worked with the likes of John Legend and Lauryn Hill, and also kept her own stylistic horizons completely wide open.

Younger's programme had pieces from the jazz repertoire - Charlie Haden - and moving in a more spiritual direction with Alice Coltrance, but also integrating pieces that look out in the directions of pop and soul - Stevie Wonder or Dorothy Ashby. In matters of sound she is quite the purist, limiting herself to the natural sound of her instrument and avoiding effects and reverb. Where she develops variety and contrast is from the many-sidedness of the harp. Her improvisations are less the normal matter of rapidly zipping up and down scales, more using arpeggios to create a delicate layering of harmonies.

Brandee Younger, Mats Sandahl Marc Ayza
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


 Bassist Mats Sandahl is a discreet presence next to her,articulating clearly, and being careful not to collide with the deeper registers of the harp.  Drummer Marc Ayza interjects with compact, structures and shapes. What results is fascinating and prolific interplay between the members of the group. The elements are finely differentiated, and the dialogue almost seems airborne. The trio clearly is able to work from a refined understanding of the group sound,. What  keeps it from ever getting dull or predictable is Younger's virtuosity and understanding of how to achieve variety. The listener is not gently lulled by the music, but rather carried along by it as it pulsates and swings.

(*) This is our translation of Ralf's original German review in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (LINK

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