Title: Love and Liberation
Artist: Jazzmeia Horn
Label: Concord Jazz
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 23, 2019
On her stunning 2017 debut, A Social Call, singer-songwriter and bandleader Jazzmeia Horn demonstrated a maturity that belied her age, deftly fusing jazz vocal techniques of the ‘50s and ‘60s with R&B and gospel music while also issuing a call for social responsibility and change. Horn’s sophomore album, Love and Liberation, continues in a similar vein, featuring eight original songs that reflect her personal mantra: An act of love is an act of liberation, and choosing to liberate—oneself or another—is an act of love.” Joining her on the album are drummer/vocalist Jamison Ross who, like Horn, is a past winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, as well as special guest pianist Sullivan Fortner. All three were raised within the Southern Baptist church, allowing their shared lived experiences and gospel roots to permeate the tracks. Other backing musicians include pianist Victor Gould (Horn’s regular accompanist), tenor saxophonist Stacey Dillard, trumpeter Josh Evans, and bassist Ben Williams.
Opening with “Free Your Mind,” Horn offers a jaunty, upbeat tune extolling listeners to “free your mind and let your thoughts expand” as she effortlessly scats over a tight horn section. The song was conceived as a commentary on the current dominance of social media and technology over human creativity and interaction. Switching things up with the spoken word track, “Time,” Horn imagines a private conversation between two lovers, setting the mood with a mellow groove. Another lovers dialogue, “Only You,” appears later in the album, this time in a complex, overlapping spoken duet with Ross. According to Horn’s website, the talented songwriter is also a nascent playwright, and these interludes are an attempt to share another facet of her art with fans.
Songs such as “Out the Window” harken back to the style of Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald and allow Horn to display her impeccable style as well as her virtuosity, with chromatically complex scatting across her full vocal range that’s always in perfect pitch. “Searchin’” is yet another masterpiece, challenging Horn to sing and scat at a nearly impossible tempo which she pulls off with aplomb.
In addition to her original compositions, Horn also selected four covers for the album. The most personal, “No More,” is a song she learned from her mentor, Jon Hendricks. Sung defiantly, Horn channels her own inner strength, making it clear that she won’t “let anyone’s mentality or preconceived notions of me mess up my soul no more.” Her tribute to Eryka Badu on “Green Eyes” adds a John Coltrane vibe, while Rachelle Farrell’s “Reflection of My Heart” is transformed into a vocal duet between lovers, featuring Jamison Ross. The album concludes with the Johnny Mercer standard, “I Thought About You.” Stripped down to just voice and bass, Horn eschews smooth jazz vocals in favor of a gospel-inflected, rough around the edges bluesy approach reflecting her own singular style.
On Love and Liberation, Jazzmeia Horn breaks free of the constraints of vocal jazz, offering a mature album of original music that speaks to self-love, self-expression, and perhaps most importantly, the courage to love unconditionally.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss