One of the loveliest sounds heard on record in 2020 was the pluck and shimmer of Brandee Younger’s harp, tracing out the melodies of classic songs like the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” on Force Majeure, a collection of home-recorded duets with her partner, bassist Dezron Douglas. That album’s exquisitely chill vibe carries over into “Pretend,” a standout track from Younger’s new solo effort — and first for Impulse!, the legendary jazz imprint — Somewhere Different.
“Pretend” is a new song, co-written by Younger and the track’s guest vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball, best known for fronting New Orleans R&B-meets–hip-hop powerhouse Tank and the Bangas. But it feels as lived-in as any of the material on the covers-heavy Force Majeure, perhaps reflecting Younger’s years of experience working not just with jazz pacesetters like Makaya McCraven and Joel Ross, but also with artists such as John Legend, Common, and Moses Sumney.
On the song’s intro, Younger’s harp interweaves with Ball’s wordless vocals, setting a dreamy, reflective mood. Bassist Rashaan Carter (Douglas performs elsewhere on Somewhere Different, but his main role on the LP is that of producer) and drummer Allan Mednard lock into an airy groove, and Ball sketches out an elliptical tale of an affair “that happened in September” and seems to have left the narrator wanting: “Days on empty/Waiting patient/Til we/Say goodbye/… And I can’t stop pretending.”
Younger’s harp remains a background texture during a midsong rap from Ball where she delves further into the complexities and shortcomings of the relationship — “Open fantasy/This fallacy/It got me trippin’ right” — then drifts into a central role after a reprise of the chorus. The rhythm section heats up to climactic double time, but Younger keeps her lines graceful and understated as the track fades.
Much as with the material on Force Majeure, “Pretend” blends the concentrated emotional punch of pop with the extemporaneous instrumental flights of jazz. Younger’s playing, virtuosic but with a sparkling lightness, invites you to set aside questions of classification, and just savor the sonic finery.