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Every week on the air there's a special focus on one particular jazz album. Check them all out here!

Jazz Album of the Week: Singer and Composer Jazzmeia Horn's Gets Personal with Love and Liberation

October 28, 2019. While the rest of us wonder how someone named Jazzmeia Horn becomes a musician who actually lives up to such a name, all Ms. Horn does is win awards, tour, and make hit records. Love and Liberation is the follow up to her Grammy-nominated debut, 2017’s A Social Call. And while A Social Call was clearly a massive hit, Horn’s sophomore effort is a lot more personal.

On A Social Call, Horn covered vocalists ranging in style from Betty Carter to Mary J. Blige and did so with panache. But here, though there are some well-placed covers, including a particularly great rendition of Erykah Badu’s “Green Eyes,” the story is Horn’s eight original compositions.

“Free Your Mind,” Love and Liberation’s opener, is one of these originals. The lyrics carry a timely message urging listeners to make their lives simpler, to move past petty preoccupations in order to find their truest selves. Forest through the trees type of thing. Easier said than done, Ms. Horn. Although a sustained regimen of Jazzmeia might just hasten a shift in perspective.

Stacy Dillard (tenor saxophone) and Josh Evans (trumpet) comprise a nice little horn section, working together harmoniously within the arrangement before (and after) Evans steps out front for most of the tune’s middle third.

Dillard gets the opportunity to return the favor on the up-tempo “Out the Window,” breaking up Horn’s earnest warnings about the dangerously duplicitous “other woman.”

Neither Dillard nor Evans are strangers to Horn; they both played on A Social Call—as did Ben Williams (bass) and Victor Gould (piano). The core group’s lone newcomer is drummer Jamison Ross, whom we also hear singing—he and Horn share a duet on an arrangement of Rachelle Ferrell’s “Reflection of My Heart” that is one of the album’s surprise cross-genre highlights.

Another is the take on Badu’s “Green Eyes.” Everyone loves Erykah Badu, and it almost feels like she’s a Philadelphian, given her work with The Roots. But Badu is actually from Dallas and attended the same high school for performing arts (Booker T. Washington) that Jazzmeia Horn later attended—Norah Jones and the late Roy Hargrove are also alums.

Badu’s original is a ten-minute, concerto-like epic, with several movements; the version here is not quite as ambitious—or, perhaps more accurately, it’s ambitious in different ways. Horn communicates such confidence in her singing that, at times, it’s hard to believe her to be as vulnerable as Badu sounds in the original. But the sophistication of Horn’s contemporary R&B sensibility cannot be questioned. Familiarity with the original notwithstanding, it’s one of the album’s highlights.

Love and Liberation’s lone standard is an arrangement of Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “I Thought about You.” This sounds every bit as natural a part of Horn’s arsenal as “Green Eyes,” which underscores just how versatile she is.

This one’s just Jazzmeia and bassist Ben Williams. Sometimes piano players are so good that they serve to airbrush vocalists, pitch-wise, like catchers great at framing fastballs. So it’s always interesting to hear a vocalist courageous enough to do a tune unaccompanied or with just a bassist. But no intonation problems here, folks. As that name would suggest, this one’s a natural.

Matt Silver is a journalist, commentator, and storyteller who’s been enamored with the concept of performance since his grandparents told him as a toddler that singing "Sunrise, Sunset" in rooms full of strangers was the cool thing to do.