The first time I saw the remarkable vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn, was as a member of drummer Winard Harper's group at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. I have had the pleasure of seeing her several times subsequent to that time and have been impressed everytime. She was the winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition that was devoted to jazz vocals. One of the prizes was a recording contract with Concord Records which is issuing her debut album on the reactivated Prestige label. On this recording she is supported by Victor Gould on piano, Stacy Dillard on saxophone, trumpeter Josh Evans, trombonist Frank Lacy, bassist Ben Williams (himself a previous Monk Competition winner); and drummer Jerome Jennings.
Originally inspired by Sarah Vaughan, and mentored by Rachelle Farrell, she also was guided by Bobby McFerrin, Abby Lincoln and Betty Carter. She posseses a remarkable vocal range, and with her perfect pitch and her horn-like scatting and phrasing, one is struck by the clarity, vitality and expressiveness of Jazzmeia's sining. She has an exceptional vocal instrument that is displayed on the performances with a terrific backing band and a well-conceived program of standards, hard bop classics and adaptations of contemporary material. This opens with a compelling rendition of Betty Carter's "Tight," with terrific backing. Dillard takes a terrific short solo, before she scats and trade fours with him. Her rendition of the standard "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)," has a wonderful solo from Gould along with more scatting. It is followed by the full band lending a little big band feel for the Sister Rosetta Tharpe classic, "Up Above My Head," with a lovely delivery of the lyric with light scatting before Frank Lacy takes a gruff solo.
Gigi Gryce's "Social Call," opens with her singing Jon Hendricks' lyrics only accompanied by Williams' bass before the full rhythm enters with wonderful playing from Gould and Jennings' light touch driving this gem. Her spoken social commentary set against Williams' bass and Jennings cymbal work begins a stunning reworking of The Stylistics "People Make The World Go Round." This is taken at a brisker tempo than the original. In addition to the precise enunciation, she adds emphasis by speeding up and then extending her phrasing as the horns adding to the atmosphere with quasi-frenzied interplay.
When I first saw her with Winard Harper, I recall her performing the classic "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Here she sings it accompanied with Gould's accompaniment which segues into a full band rendition of Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'," with her scatting followed by a brief segment from Lacy and a blistering chorus from Evans, a walking bass solo, before she closes this taking her voice to the stratosphere. The lovely rendition of "The Peacocks," has a fine accompaniment from Young to which Evans adds some nice brass, and followed by a whirlwind paced "I Remember You,"with a brief drum break.
On this superb recording, a highlight might be the medley of "Medley: Afro Blues/ Eye See You / Wade in the Water." It begins with an imaginative, tour de force reworking of the Mongo Santamaria classic, initially performed as a duet with Jennings before the rhythm enters and has some operatic vocalizing at the upper reaches of her extensive range. This segues into a spoken social commentary rap before transitioning into the spiritual with gutbucket trombone also heard. The album closes with a lively and uplifting cover of Mary J. Blige's "I'm Going Down." Again, she her vocal soars while she delivers a message for brothers and sisters to hold on and stay strong in trying times
Jazzmeia Horn is a most gifted singer whose originality, horn-like phrasing, timbre and timing will enthrall listeners on this auspicious debut.
I received a review copy from Concord Records. Here she performs Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," at the Mink vocal competition semi-finals.