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Brandee Younger performs for an NPR Music Field Recording in January 2013. (NPR)

Brandee Younger: Taxidermy, Two-Headed Skeletons And Jazz Harp

by Patrick Jarenwattananon
Jun 6, 2013 (WBGO-FM)

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Among the vestment racks, satchel purveyors and art galleries of New York's SoHo neighborhood lies a small merchant unlike its neighbors. It's called The Evolution Store, and it peddles, um, natural-history collectibles. You know, preserved insects, taxidermy, skulls and bones, remnants of marine creatures. It's as if a museum ran out of space and started putting its sloths and tarantulas in the gift shop.

Naturally, our video producers saw it and thought: Obviously, we need to record there.

We're not quite sure what any of this has to do with Brandee Younger, though she is a rare breed in her world: a jazz harpist. Well, she's classically trained, and plays her share of freelance and wedding gigs — in her C.V. are recordings for rappers Common and Drake — but like predecessors Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, she's also developed a way to improvise and truly groove on the harp. In 2011, she recorded an EP with her jazz group, and she's got more recording sessions for a full-length record in the next month.

With a full band, the song heard here, "Hortense," takes on a distinct Caribbean bounce, a one-drop reggae beat anchoring Dezron Douglas' bass line. Stripped down to a duo, it wafts and glides, all arpeggios and plucked wires. There's glass everywhere inside The Evolution Store; appropriately, the performance was sparkling and crystalline. If Younger and Douglas were unnerved by all the stuffed, mummified and two-headed fauna around them, they didn't let on — during the performance, anyway.

Credits

Produced by Saidah Blount, Mito Habe-Evans, Patrick Jarenwattananon; Videographers: Gabriella Garcia-Pardo, Mito Habe-Evans, Tim Wilkins; Audio engineered by Kevin Wait; Video edited by Gabriella Garcia-Pardo and Mito Habe-Evans; Special thanks to The Evolution Store

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