Brandee Younger Trio
Central Park Summerstage
June 15, 2019
By Ernest Barteldes
Backed by Endea Owens (upright bass) and E.J. Strickland (drums), jazz harpist Brandee Younger kicked off her set with Alice Coltrane’s “Rama-Rama,” a bright and uptempo theme that quickly transitioned to a more syncopated number centered on Owens’ dominant bassline. She followed that with “Hortence,” an original tune that allowed the bandleader to stretch and further explore the versatility of her instrument, and Owens took another mellifluous solo. She introduced herself and the band (cracking a joke at Strickland’s Gainsville, FL origins) and led the band with a more samba-influenced number.
Halfway through the set, the trio was joined by saxophonist Chelsea Baratz for “Essence of Ruby,” whose melody centered on the saxophonist’s tenor sax. It was a tune with a simple structure close to smooth jazz but with more of a contemporary edge.
The four musicians navigated various styles, and included many creative elements – in “Respect the Destroyer,” Younger used effects that gave her harp an electronic-like sound that served as a backdrop for Baratz’s dexterous solo.
They closed their set with a tune by legendary Detroit-born Afro harp player Dorothy Ashby (there was another tune of hers earlier in) that swung much harder than other tunes that evening and gave the opportunity for Strickland to add his only solo of the evening, which he took in a laid-back manner, concentrating more on the drums than the cymbals.
Except for Colombia’s Edmar Castañeda, who takes more of a Latin-jazz approach to his playing, I had never heard jazz played on a harp – and until recently I had no knowledge of the work of Dorothy Ashby. Younger’s set was enjoyable and also educational, since it made me do some research jazz harp.
The evening was rounded out by a set with a saxophone trio featuring Jack