By Tom Ineck
June 13, 2018
Photos by Kayla Solorzano
Video by Joe Aguirre; Kayla Solorzano
Singer Jazzmeia Horn’s joyful enthusiasm virtually exploded on the Jazz in June stage at her June 12 performance. She proved well-deserving of the accolades that have been heaped on her since she won the 2015 Thelonious Monk Competition and her first release, 2017’s “A Social Call,” earned a Grammy nomination for best jazz vocal.
She began the concert with the lead-off track from that album, Betty Carter’s dazzling rhythmic exercise “Tight,” an uptempo workout for all members of the band—Victor Gould on keyboard, Michael Olotuja on bass and Henry Conerway III on drums. Throughout the evening, Horn and her combo worked in tandem, effortlessly negotiating tricky time signatures, extended scat-singing interludes and frequent call-and-response interplay. The excellent sound mix brought out everything from the deep bass tones to the sizzle of the cymbals and the full range of the keyboard.
Horn built elaborate, well-structured scat-singing lines around “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” a Rodgers and Hart standard that sounded anything but conventional with bass and piano solos followed by Horn trading licks with Conerway’s drums. She was a force of nature, displaying a dazzling vocal range, improvisational daring and impossibly sustained high notes.
I doubt if Cole Porter ever imagined his classic “Night and Day” as a song of self-love, but perhaps he should have. It certainly was effective in the hands of Horn and company, who took the tune at a fleet tempo before it evolved into an improvised hip hop-style, catalog of ways to love your self, in a flowing call-and-response with the audience: “I love myself, I love my nose, I love my skin, I love my toes.” It was the first of several tunes that exhibited Horn’s extra-musical messages of universal love and acceptance.
The haunting Jimmy Rowles ballad “The Peacocks,” with lyrics by Norma Winstone, was a perfect vehicle for Horn’s unerring vocal control as she maneuvered through the beautiful, but difficult and odd chord changes. In contrast, she followed that by asking all children under the age of 10 to join her on stage for a series of nursery rhyming songs that had them singing, spinning, leaping and dancing. As they left the stage, she reminded us of the importance of music in schools and that “they are our future.”
To finish the set, the band kicked into a mid-tempo swing version of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get around Much Anymore,” which featured another exuberant scat-singing solo by Horn.
The second set was equally entertaining and diverse, beginning with “September in the Rain,” replete with four-bar exchanges and a drum solo. Horn’s arrangement of Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You” was taken at a careening tempo with tricky stop-time phrasing, a piano solo and another effusive scat-singing exhibition reminiscent of Betty Carter. Her take on “My Funny Valentine” was another reminder to “love yourself before you can love someone else.” A blues medley had dozens of people joining Horn on the dance floor in front of the stage.
With temperatures in the mid-80s and an enthusiastic crowd of several thousand, Jazzmeia Horn’s first Nebraska appearance was certainly one of the highlights of Jazz in June’s first 27 years. May there be many more.
Before the concert, I was honored to present Horn with the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2018 award for Up and Coming Musician of the Year. Since the official awards ceremony was taking place at the same time in New York City, we were fortunate to have her here with us in Lincoln. In fact, she was the only jazz artist to receive her award while on the road.
Kayla Solorzan is a multimedia intern with KZUM.
Tom Ineck is host of Night Town, Thurs. 8:30-10 p.m. on KZUM.