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Artist’s Choice: Brandee Younger on Impulse!

The harpist selects tracks to celebrate the famed label's 60th anniversary

Brandee Younger
Brandee Younger (photo: Erin Patrice O’Brien)

When I think of Impulse! Records, I first think of the Coltrane legacy and that classic orange, black, and white branding on the labels. Then I think of Impulse! today, as a label that has forged ahead with current trends, while keeping a firm foundation in its rich history. It’s a label that I’m honored to be a part of as it celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2021. Here are a few Impulse! recordings that have really resonated with me over the years.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the songs in this Artist’s Choice:

“Turiya and Ramakrishna”

Ptah, the El Daoud, 1970

The word that comes to mind when I hear this track is “timeless” because I just never, ever grow tired of it. I can’t seem to. The interplay between Coltrane, Ron Carter, and Ben Riley is engaging from top to bottom. The repeated soulful turns in the bluesy melody are what I think make it so infectious. You can’t not feel this piece.  

“In a Sentimental Mood”
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, 1963

Did you discover this recording while watching the movie Love Jones? I didn’t. I knew it beforehand, but so many of my peers discovered it through that movie, so finally … finally the music nerds could talk about something with everybody else and everyone could be excited about it! This is a classic in every way.

Cover of Alice Coltrane album Ptah, the El Daoud
Cover of Alice Coltrane album Ptah, the El Daoud

“Blue Nile”
Ptah, the El Daoud, 1970

Yes, I am biased because of the harp. However, how many times can we say that we’ve heard a harp literally gliss through a blues? This was actually the recording that made me change the direction of my playing, early on. We’ve got the very traditional combination of the harp and flute (or flutes, in this case) turned upside down! I’d never heard anything like it and knew that I wanted to incorporate that sound into my playing, one way or another.

Genius + Soul = Jazz, 1961

To hear this entire work of Ray Charles’ is a real treat. I grew up listening to the “Georgia on My Mind” Ray Charles and didn’t come to his jazz recordings until much later in life. “Moanin’” is just one of my favorite tunes to vibe out to and I’ve always been a fan of Quincy Jones’ orchestrations and arrangements, so this is a winning combination for sure.

“We Shall Overcome”
Liberation Music Orchestra, 1970

“We Shall Overcome” has deep personal meaning to me, as it does to many Black Americans who have Southern roots. This arrangement of the anthem is very simple and does not veer away from what we’re accustomed to singing, even today. A one-verse version with Roswell Rudd taking the lead quite beautifully, it makes this recording very, very powerful and deeply meaningful.

“Roll ’Em”
Roll ’Em: Shirley Scott Plays the Big Bands, 1966

This here is what I call “feel good” music. Mary Lou Williams is one of my favorite composers and this blues really swings. There is so much soul that I can’t keep still and make a lil’ stank face. I am also partial to instrumentalists who need to use their hands and feet at the same time. 😉

The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse! Records

Brandee Younger

Brandee Younger is a harpist, composer, educator, and concert curator who has performed and recorded with artists including Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Common, John Legend, the Roots, Stevie Wonder, and Lauryn Hill. Her fifth and most recent album, a duo project with bassist Dezron Douglas titled Force Majeure, was released in 2020. She is on the teaching artist faculty at New York University and the New School College of Performing Arts in New York City.