Take Five: Brandee Younger Shares a Soul Awakening, and George Cables is All Smiles

May 19, 2019

Along with the latest from guitarist Will Sellenraad, keyboardist Romain Collin, and trombonist Kalia Vandever.

Brandee Younger, “Linda Lee”

If it feels like we’ve been waiting a while for Soul Awakening, the latest from harpist and composer Brandee Younger, that impression is justified: the music was recorded some six years ago. Considering that Younger is releasing the album herself, there were surely some practical reasons for this delay.

Thankfully, the wait is almost over. (After all, we haven’t been getting any Younger! Folks, I’ll be here all week.)

In all seriousness, Soul Awakening, which releases on June 7, is a persuasive statement by an artist coming into her own. It includes one composition apiece by Younger’s two harp totems, Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane — and features Alice’s son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, on a pair of tracks. But the important thing to note about the album is its unassuming surety of purpose. Younger has internalized the spirit-filled lessons of her predecessors, reconciling them with her distinctly contemporary point of view.

A case in point is “Linda Lee,” which Younger named after her mother, Linda Lee McNease-Younger. Set over a sort of funk march, courtesy of drummer EJ Strickland, it has a wistful post-bop melody played in octaves by trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and tenor saxophonist Chelsea Baratz. The horns improvise together, not so much in call-and-response as in a braided strand. Holding everything together is the collaboration at the album’s core: Younger, with her arpeggios and glissandi, and bassist Dezron Douglas, who also served as producer.

Brandee Younger appears at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York on Tuesday (featuring Ravi Coltrane) and Wednesday (featuring Nicholas Payton). She will also perform at SummerStage on June 15, with Coltrane, bassist Matthew Garrison and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

George Cables, “I’m All Smiles”

This erudite and ever-soulful pianist last released an album a few years ago, taking the unusual step of filling it with his own compositions. His new release, I’m All Smiles, which HighNote Records will release this Friday, is a more conventional yet equally special outing. Featuring Cables with a pair of longtime associates, Essiet Essiet on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, it consists of 10 songs by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk.

The title track, however, has a Broadway provenance: it comes from the 1965 musical adaptation of The Yearling. After a ceremonial prelude, Cables sets the delicate melody in a lively waltz time. His piano solo, which begins in earnest at around 2:30, is full of sparkling turns of phrase; in a different way, so is Lewis’ hip drum solo, over the vamp that Cables uses to modernize the tune.

Kalia Vandever, “In Bloom”

There’s a good chance you haven’t yet heard the music of Kalia Vandever, a trombonist and composer two years out of Juilliard. There’s an even better chance that you’ll be hearing more from her soon. Vandever just released her debut album, In Bloom, featuring original compositions for a quartet of her peers: pianist Theo Walentiny, bassist Nick Dunston and drummer Connor Parks.


On the title track, which opens the album, Vandever employs a bass ostinato with an offbeat syncopation throughout — a simple but effective way of setting the song just slightly off its axis. Her melody features a similar rhythmic displacement, which she plays with classical precision. The solos, first by Walentiny and then Vandever, are adventurous but rooted. This is a cohort that has obviously metabolized many different approaches, and chosen its own path.

Will Sellenraad/Eric McPherson/Rene Hart, “Alter Ego”

For his fourth album, guitarist Will Sellenraad set out to capture a social dynamic in motion. He called on two longtime associates, bassist Rene Hart and drummer Eric McPherson, and made Greene Street Vol. 1, which is due out on Deko Music on June 14. The album includes tunes by all three musicians, but its opening track — and first single, premiering here — is a song by pianist James Williams, “Alter Ego.”

Perhaps you remember the tune from Williams’ album by that name in the mid-1980s, or from a bossa nova version that Roy Hargrove recorded in the early ‘90s. But despite its hard-boppish pedigree, the tune opens here in groovy semi-abstraction, with electronic loops and what feels like a skeletal breakbeat. The melody doesn’t coalesce until two-and-a-half minutes in — though when it does, it’s unmistakable, thanks to Sellenraad’s warm treatment. The improvisations that follow are just as welcome: guitar, then bass, and finally drums.  

Will Sellenraad/Eric McPherson/Rene Hart will play an album-release show on June 30 at Mezzrow in New York.

Romain Collin, “Los Angeles”

Music has always, it seems, been a sweeping vista for pianist Romain Collin, who was born in France and now lives in Brooklyn. His proudly contemporary new album, Tiny Lights…, moves him into the realm of electroacoustic groove music, à la Jason Lindner, and cinematic jazz-rock, à la Aaron Parks. He made the album with a core trio, consisting of himself on piano and Moog Taurus bass synth; Matthew Stevens on electric guitar; and Obed Calvaire on drums and electronics.

A couple of tracks on the album — which releases in full this Friday on XM Records, in partnership with Revive Music Group — also feature beautiful string arrangements by Kazuma Jinnouchi, performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. But “Los Angeles,” which premieres here, is a trio affair. (Someone, perhaps Collin himself, whistles along with the melody.) There’s a narrative concept behind Tiny Lights…, involving both a hero’s journey and a coming-of-age, but much of what you need to know is in the yearning lyricism of this tune, and in the way these three musicians sound both locked-in and open.

Tiny Lights… will be released on Friday; preorder here.