Not for nothing is Jazzmeia Horn’s recent second album titled Love & Liberation. When the award-winning 28-year-old American, regarded by many as the foremost jazz singer of her generation, talks about music in terms of empowerment, she means it.
Horn combines commanding self-possession with sinuous and sharply articulate vocal power, punctuated with joyously hectic scatting that can channel a high-note trumpet or sax with a facility that seems to reflect her strikingly resonant name. All of which audiences here will be able to appreciate for themselves later this month, when she makes her Scottish debut with the Scottish National Jazz orchestra for three concerts under the heading “The Artistry of Jazzmeia Horn.”
The SNJO’s press release describes Horn as “one of the most articulate and relevant voices in improvisational music” and very much a voice for these troubled times. For her part, Horn favours the term “mission” when describing the thinking behind her music. The mission behind her first album, A Social Call, released to much acclaim and a Grammy nomination in 2016, was aimed, she says, at engendering social awareness and a call to speak out about social injustice in America and around the planet.
“Love & Liberation is a kind of sequel, a call to action, starting with yourself,” she explains, speaking on the phone from New York. “People tell me after a show that in seeing a performance of mine they have become more liberated in themselves, whether they be a Muslim woman or a homosexual male or a transgender person. That is my mission with this music – to allow people to be a lot freer in who they are and what they do, because I am entirely free on stage and not just as a singer, but as a bandleader, as a composer, as a teacher, as a mother [she has two young daughters]; these are all part of my expression of the artistry of jazz.”
That expression extends to her richly Afro-Egyptian-style clothes, which she makes herself.
The music on which all this is predicated is grounded in a rich synthesis of influences, from the Baptist church gospel praise she grew up singing in Dallas, Texas, through significant encounters with the singing of some of the classic voices of jazz, whom she first encountered on a revelatory compilation which a percipient high school teacher gave her. “So I first heard people like Little Jimmy Scott, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrae, Abbey Lincoln. And I chose from them what I wanted: Sarah Vaughan for her sassy approach to her improvisation and her phrasing; what I took from Ella Fitzgerald was her playfulness, and from Nina Simone her ability to be a strong black woman in society. So it’s not just one person that influenced me; it’s evolution, always changing.”
Horn has yet to see the SNJO in live performance, although she has watched them on YouTube and is relishing the prospect of their collaboration. She is certainly no stranger to sharing the stage with large-scale forces, having performed with Germany’s WDR Big Band, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and several others. “If you think about the dynamics and timbre and tonality,” she says, “singing with a big band can be a really beautiful experience.”
Repertoire for the Scottish tour include such standards as Honeysuckle Rose and I Remember You as well as some of her own writing including the exuberant exhortation of Free Your Mind, which opens her current album. “I’ve performed some of these standards in so many different settings,” she says, “but I’ll be really excited to hear these arrangements of a couple of my own compositions.”
For her Scottish audiences, her advice is straightforward: “Relax, let the music take control. We’re definitely going to have fun.”
Jazzmeia Horn and the SNJO play Perth Concert Hall on 22 November, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 23 November and the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 24 November, see www.snjo.co.uk