Within the first few minutes of opening standard, ‘I Remember You’, liberally enhanced by Jazzmeia Horn’s scat and wittily inventive vocalese, the tone was set for what was an extraordinary, almost jubilant concert.
Visually striking in her reportedly self-made long black dress and towering signature headdress, 28-year-old American Horn’s final concert in a three-stop Scottish tour with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO) was jazz of the highest order.
Winner of the prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute International Jazz Competition in 2015, Horn has been making a name for herself throughout the US and at jazz festivals internationally, while her 2017 debut, A Social Call, achieved a Grammy nomination, while her second release, Love And Liberation, has also been recently Grammy nominated.
Her exuberant vocalese deftly mimicked the band’s instruments, and was always beautifully integrated within the 17-piece orchestra, as if she were a long-time member of the ensemble. With impeccable timing, rich tone, deftly bent notes and a stunning range (not least in the very highest reaches), hers is a voice that is well on its way to becoming one of the contemporary greats. Such was Horn’s versatility, she evoked both Nina Simone, and her early inspiration, Sarah Vaughan.
But what absolutely confirms Horn as a modern day phenomenon – alongside awesome improvisation, vocal pyrotechnics and charismatic stage presence – is her intensely serious calls for social justice. The painful story she shared regarding how she came to write ‘Legs and Arms’ drew a thoughtful silence from the auditorium.
Aided by Bill Dobbins’ excellent arrangements, the SNJO evidenced their usual superb musicianship, swinging so deeply you were lucky if you didn’t get sea-sick. Saxophonist/leader Tommy Smith should be congratulated on featuring Horn for this first-rate and life-enhancing project.