The 2015 Thelonious Monk Jazz competition – the most recent year to to feature vocalists – was easily the greatest year in the history of the event, producing three winners, all of whom have become leading lights on the contemporary jazz scene: Vuyo Satoshe, Veronica Swift, and the first-place winner, Jazzmeia Horn. In 2017 Ms. Horn released her first album, A Social Call, and now her second, Love and Liberation, is about to "drop." The first was a significant statement from a 26-year-old, but the second is a major leap forward: much of A Social Call, especially the title cut, seemed like a direct recreation of the late Betty Carter – obviously Ms. Horn's number one role model – and where that influence is still heard through Love and Liberation, Carter's ghost here lingers more in the form of a spiritual and musical inspiration rather than a direct template.
In the new album, Ms. Horn's original compositions are viable vehicles for her (just as Ms. Carter's were for her own work). At Jazz Standard Wednesday evening, her treatments of standards were like multi-headed hydras: her opening number starts as the 1929 "Do Something" (by Bud Green and Sam Stept, also famously sung by Betty Carter) but soon bebops its way into "Willow Weep For Me" and a ballad that starts as "Tenderly" quickly detours through "Misty" and "The Nearness of You." Ms. Horn would seem to concentrate on the surfaces, both visual and musical, of everything she does, going from the outside in, and that's hardly a criticism, since Ms. Horn is luminously bright, even radiant, and full of infectious youthful energy.
PS: Ms. Horn's band at the Jazz Standard this week, with pianist Keith Brown, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Ralph Peterson, and special guests, tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trumpeter Josh Evans, is also singularly excellent.
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