Jazzmeia Horn’s New Album Displays Rising Star and Black Womanist Resistance
By Kevin C. Peterson
Jazzmeia Horn sings exquisitely with a kind of effortless effervescence that features gospel roots and carefully curated meanings of black female agency.
Four short years ago Horn, at 24, won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. Two years later her first album, “Social Call” registered number 1 on the highly regarded JazzWeek website.
Horn, who is tall, physically slight and crafting an Afro-centric demeanor — in terms of dress — carries with her a well-honed musical purposefulness that can deftly scale registers of vocalization with remarkably pitched tonality.
Her most recent album, called “Love and Liberation,” was released this August by Concord Records to the glee of fans and satisfaction of critics who are convinced of her emergence as a significant voice in jazz. This second album is flushed with performances that infuses Horn’s high octane enthusiasm and understanding of the African-American classical music form into well-known jazz standards: Horn vamps through blues, jazz, broadway-influenced show tunes and gospel platforms with practiced skillfulness that give fresh perspective and deep appreciation.
“Still Tryin” is a song from the new album that unvails the enormity of Horn’s talent for most to witness. A blues-based narrative concerning bar room venereal pursuits, Horn sings with superior story-telling alacrity that lifts what would be a pedestrian tale of sexual predation into categories of black female agency and existential surety.
Horn knows that the blues are not always how they sound. Rather, the blues seek to move the listener beyond the patina of melancholy to places of discovery — from being harried to hope. So, in “Still Tryin” the audience is transported from the pedestrian recounting of a forced trysts to a realm where female autonomy gleams.
Here is the intersectionality of Horn’s music that might be described as post-feminist black female perspective — where race and female agency is centralized as essential identity, as a grounding place. Hence, what can be faintly heard in Horn’s aural performance and lyric selection are voices in black literature like Audre Lorde, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. These voices challenge the threats of patriarchy and racial domination, for sure.
In “I thought About You,” (Johnny Mercer and James Van Heusen) Horn exhibits her capacity at caressing from lyrics perhaps more than what initially may have been intended. In her rendition, Horn pulls this saccharine, depression-era song about memory and yearning into free form jazz scat — shortening and elongating words and putting emphasis on stanzas for arresting dramatic effect.
Billie Holiday sang this song with extraordinary pathos for a 1954 Verve recording. Here Holiday is haunting and invests the song with demons that seemingly refuse to quit. Holiday’s portrayal capture’s the listeners’ tragic sensibilities until beams of salvation sift outwardly, finally, at its conclusion.
Horn, too, manages to lend a vocal interpretation to this song that is no less visceral — calling her listeners to be attentive to what triumphs might be pregnant in the blows that life delivers to our spiritual solar plexus.
Nothwithstanding, there is unbridled cheeriness that seems to accompany Horn’s every musical effort. All of it appears reflected in the joyfulness of worship that seems to have followed her from the Golden Chain Missionary Church in Dallas where her grandfather was pastor and where she finds her religious grounding.
Horn’s stunning talent becomes evident in other songs on “Love and Liberation,” ranging from “Searchin” to “What I Say.” Each number is filled with abundant charm and glow.
What can not be denied is that Horn presently possesses an extraordinary talent. What legendary status awaits her as she delves even more intentionally into the sound and sensibility she has been blessed with.