Jazz vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn, returned to her home at the Kennedy Center on Saturday evening to deliver the first performance in the REACH’s jazz club, Studio K. Perhaps there is no better artist to inaugurate the REACH’s jazz club than Horn as she represents freshness and newness in jazz and symbolizes what the REACH aspires to be.
Having graduated from the Kennedy Center’s Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program in 2013, Horn attributed her development as an artist to this program and opened her set performing Carter’s “Please Do Something” in honor of the jazz great. Horn’s vocal gymnastics remain unsurpassed as she easily moved from scatting, rifting, running, and gliding from her low to high register leaving the audience in awe.
The energy with which she delivered this Carter standard seemed to up the ante a bit as her trio pianist Keith Brown, bassist Endea Owens, and drummer Anwar Marshall remained tight and went wherever Horn took them. Brown’s piano solo brought that old school expression to the trio and tied the performance into a bow of coherency that allowed Horn’s vocal pyrotechnics to settle leaving no idle listeners in the audience.
Horn and the trio brought down the energy in the second tune with a ballad, “I Don’t Know What Time It Was,” a Sarah Vaughan classic. But Horn’s rendition was no clean and crystal version like Vaughan’s. Horn made the band work, escaping the melody, marching up and down the scale, and engaging in vocal fireworks that diminished the beauty of the song. At one point, it would have been beneficial to hear Horn stand flat-footed and sing a sustained note that did not involve double twists and a layout. Singing comes from the head, heart, and guts. What one wanted to hear from Horn was the heart.
If there is a protegee in the wings who most emulates the style of Rachelle Ferrell, it is Horn. Even the facial expressions that Ferrell uses to emit her unique sounds one finds in Horn. While Ferrell might be the queen of scat, clearly Horn is the princess.
Horn presented two of her own compositions, “Free Your Mind” and “What I Say,” from her 2019 Grammy-nominated album “Love and Liberation.” The former song pushes a social consciousness that Horn argued begins with the self. While the latter tune Horn attributed to her two daughters and their “bossiness” that she also found in herself. Both songs display Horn’s ability not only to sing jazz standards but also to compose music that might one day make their way into the American Songbook.
Seeing Horn perform live challenges the senses because she pulls out all the stops and forces the ear to go where perhaps it is unaccustomed to listening. Horn’s recordings on her album sound more palatable to an ear that has become used to sanitized and studio versions of a performer’s voice. However, one should not miss a live performance of Horn. It is a lesson in what the voice can do and how far the human voice can push the ear. Close your eyes and let your ear do the work. Horn will exercise your sonic abilities, and you may ask yourself: How much do you really know about the musical capabilities of the human voice?
Jazzmeia Horn performed one night only on Saturday, February 18, 2020, at Studio K at the REACH at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets to future Kennedy Center jazz performances, call 202-467-4600 or go online.