Staff Writer and lapsed musician Jeff Davis attended a live virtual performance at the Lantern in the Lenfest Center for the Arts last Tuesday of Brandee Younger and Dezron Douglas, a harp and bass jazz duo.
Younger and Douglas make a striking pair, even before their performance starts. Douglas is dressed in a long cardigan and black boots. His upright bass is made of stained dark and has evidently been played so often that the varnish was worn away where his fingers strike the body of the instrument, revealing the raw wood underneath.
In contrast, Younger sits at a harp made of pale wood. She wears a gray shirt with a geometric pattern of steel beams and a gold necklace that reads “Brandee” hanging around her neck. Despite the nearly empty performance space and being more than six feet away from each other, they both wear masks. There is an air of quiet, relaxed focus about the both of them. Light shines in through the array of windows behind them, the views overlooking the roofs of Manhattanville.
They start off their set with their riff on Alice Coltrane’s piece “Rama Rama”, which has a lowkey, hypnotic tone, with the harp taking the foreground and bass playing support. The melody slowly and subtly builds in energy, to an almost manic level, before quickly dropping off and returning to its low, mesmerizing baseline.
Their next piece is an original by Douglas entitled “Foligno”. Here Douglas truly shines, both as performer and a composer. The piece begins with a slow, mournful bass solo. It is beautiful on its own, but is supplemented a minute or so in by backings from Younger’s harp. It is at this point that the performers come into sinc. The two of them are each so masterful at improvisation that the interplay between them seems to be rehearsed and intentional rather than arising in the moment.
The rest of the performance is much in the same vein, quietly dynamic and subtly expressive, for four more songs. The two of these that stand out the most are “Unrest One” and “Unrest 2”. The former showcases Younger’s ability on the lower-pitched strings of the harp, which has a rhythmic, repetitive pattern which pulls in attention, unable to be ignored. It is punctuated lightly with midrange notes and much more strongly with the higher ones, the juxtaposition jarring, but not unpleasantly so.
The latter shifts the attention back to Douglas, who starts off with a rapid staccato baseline, overlaid with high and midrange harp chords. The tempo grows faster, building into a parallel harmonized melody that is as brief as it is breathtaking. It is at this point that I wish the performers went unmasked, so I can see the expressiveness on their faces more clearly. Their eyes give a lot away and their mouths can be seen moving beneath their masks.
As the two of them play deeper into their set, you can see the mutual trust, creative respect, and affection between the two musicians. They become lost in the music in their final song and at its climax one can almost see them snapping back to reality.
All in all, Younger and Douglas put on a deeply satisfying performance. The only criticism that I could find is that the duo clearly has some barely concealed strength in their talent, held back for the sake of refinement. I wanted to see that strength come out in its full force, pushing into the places where the music rang most true. Nonetheless, their skill and passion for their art is undeniable and unmistakable.
If you’re so inclined, you can watch a recording of their incredible performance here.
Dynamic Duo via Columbia Arts Initiative Events Listing