Jazzmeia Horn – ‘Dear Love’

(Empress Legacy Records. ELR001. Album Review by Patrick Hadfield)

In her short career so far, Jazzmeia Horn has received a wealth of plaudits and awards. Her first two records each received a Grammy nomination. Listening to her latest record, Dear Love, one can understand why. Backed by an impressive large ensemble, Her Noble Force, augmented on a couple of tracks by a string section together with a couple of acapella interludes, Horn uses her rich voice in both vocal and spoken word performances, often following from one form to the other. Dear Love brims with well-earned confidence.

The arrangements are all by Jazzmeia herself, and Her Noble Force is based around her regular rhythm section of pianist Keith Brown, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Anwar Marshall. The band is led by alto saxophonist Bruce Williams, and musical director is Sullivan Fortner, also to be heard on Hammond.

Despite the big band behind her, Horn’s performance feels very intimate, as if she’s sharing secrets with us: she has a voice that pulls you in and makes you want to listen. It might sound contradictory, but it’s a powerful voice, too, capable of blasting out high notes that soar over the band.

Most of the tracks are written by her, and they draw on relationships – romantic, family and community – and politics, but more politics at the personal level, rather the politics of the times we’re in.

Lover Come Back To Me, by Sigmund Romberg, is a song so strongly associated with legends such as Billie Holiday, it might seem difficult to imagine a personal stamp being put on it, yet Horn and her band have a take on the standard that is very much her own. The band set a cracking pace, and Horn has a couple a choruses of exuberant scatting.

Lover Come Back To Me might be a high point, but there are many such on the record. NIA reaches emotional heights, the force of the orchestra driving them higher before a powerful saxophone solo; Strive (To Be Free), a dose of spiritual jazz, is a powerful personal statement, and Horn literally hits the heights. Her spoken word delivery over the hypnotic riff on I Feel You Near, the opening track, pulls one in immediately.

Dear Love has a timeless feel about it, sounding very much of now, whilst embracing age old traditions.