The harp is a rare instrument in jazz, so everything the talented harpist Brandee Younger plays feels brand new. During the pandemic lockdown, Younger and talented bassist Dezron Douglas turned their New York City apartment into a space for healing and creating jazz both timeless and cutting edge.
From last March, on the same day "non-essential" businesses (live jazz) were shut down across New York, Younger and Douglas improvised a new way to stay connected to their fans and jazz community. These weekly performances, "Brunch in the Crib" Facebook livestreams, kept them in touch with friends and provided much needed income through a digital "tip jar."
Their new album, "Force Majeure," collects their favorite moments from the live sessions. The title is a sly reference to a seldom-used agreement in musical contracts that excuse cancellations as the result of the "Force of God." Music fans can only imagine the shock of suddenly losing your livelihood.
Younger and Douglas have made the most of their time off stage, as you can hear on "Force Majeure." And it helped keep their community connected. As Douglas says, their art is essential.
"The NYC community responded with love and honesty on a high level. Expression became vital for people to make it through the day and, at the same time, listening and watching expression became vital," he explains.
The pair's song selection was directed by their moods, which could range from dark to hopeful. The music acted as a way to uplift their spirits or ruminate on their frustrations.
The Pharoah Sanders' spiritual jazz classic "The Creator Has a Master Plan" grooves and sparkles. "You Make Me Feel Brand New" by the Stylistics is all loveliness and light with Younger's harp singing above Douglas' empathetic bass lines.
"Force Majeure" includes a pair of songs from John Coltrane's later years, as well as a wonderful piece by his wife, Alice Coltrane. "Gospel Trane" is an overlooked beauty written by the talented harpist (her version of the song was played on piano) as a tribute to her late husband in 1968. Soulful, catchy and grooving, Younger honors her fellow harpist with a performance that should bring the tune more attention.
My favorite, and a song the pair often played on days that seemed darkest, is the 1971 signature song from the kids' TV show "Sesame Street," "Sing." Younger relates, "We'd play “Sing" to perk up the mood. Something about that song just brings smiles all around." I agree completely, and you'll hear it on The New Cool Friday night.
The charming personalities of these two talents come through beyond their music, as "Force Majeure" scatters brief clips of their between-song banter that act to bring you right into their Harlem apartment. Douglas' opening words to his virtual audience nod to our common struggles, "If you haven't lost your mind yet, God is good. If you have lost your mind, that's cool, too."
To finish this familial album's journey, Younger and Douglas thank their audience. Then they enjoy a friendly disagreement likely heard in millions of homes around the world.
On "Flatten the Curve (Outro)," Younger recommends, "Don't go to bars." Douglas answers, "If you go to the bar, go to the one where there's not a lot of people..." and Younger interrupts, "Don't go to the bar. It's that simple."
This collection does what it sets out to: It uplifts and emanates the warmth of musical connection. It's comfort music that feels familiar, but sounds like nothing you've heard before. "Force Majeure" is certain to stand out as one of the cultural bright spots in a time we'd all like to forget.
The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.