When most people think about jazz, they think of instruments like the saxophone, trumpet or piano, but rarely, if ever, do they think of the harp — but perhaps they should. One of the most innovative jazz performers was harpist Alice Coltrane, whose masterful and experimental style took the genre to new heights. Following in her footsteps is harpist Brandee Younger, who is bringing the instrument and jazz into a new day with her brand new album, Wax & Wane.
Wax & Wane finds Brandee expanding upon what's considered "jazz." While predecessors like Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby worked within a certain aesthetic, Brandee's style is colored with different elements, including electronic, soul and funk influences. Those styles can be heard throughout Wax & Wane, partly due to Brandee's choice to bring on Casey Benjamin — best known as part of R&B duo HEAVy and the Robert Glasper Experiment. Casey, himself a saxophonist, brings his own sensibilities to the project while letting Brandee's talent run the show. She takes command of her masterful quartet (which includes Dana Hawkins on drums, Dezron Douglas on bass, Chelsea Baratz on sax and Mark Whitfield on guitar) and invites flutist Anne Drummond and string duo Chargaux along for the ride. What comes next is a refreshing exercise in jazz fusion that's sure to please
Opening track "Soul Vibrations" establishes what we can expect from the collection from jump. Starting off with a soulful drum and bass guitar rhythm reminiscent of '70s funk, it soon blossoms into an alluring, intoxicating musical landscape as harp, flute, strings and saxophone join the party, taking it in unexpected directions while still keeping its funky base. The rest of Wax & Wane is just as progressive, with tracks like "Essence of Ruby," "Afro Harping" and the title track keeping up the funk while others like "Ruby Echo" and "Ebony Haze" deliver hushed, gauzy moments that bring a calm to the proceedings. Then there's album closer "Black and Gold," which seems to incorporate everything heard previously and artfully flips it all into a modern, foot-tapping number that sticks with you.
You can stream Wax & Wane in its entirety below. If it tickles your fancy (and we're more than sure it will), you can pick it up right now on iTunes.