Grammy nominated Jazzmeia Horn visits UNCW

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Grammy nominated Jazzmeia Horn visits UNCW

Photo courtesy of UNCW website.

Photo courtesy of UNCW website.

Photo courtesy of UNCW website.

Photo courtesy of UNCW website.

William Becker, Staff Writer

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Jazzmeia Horn is a 28-year-old jazz vocalist from Dallas, Texas. To say her vocal performance is impressive would be a criminal understatement. In 2013, she won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition. Then in 2015, she won the Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition before her debut album, “A Social Call,” was nominated for the Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.”

Her performance at Kenan Auditorium on Nov. 3 was profound and intense, yet relaxing. Oddly taking place at 3 p.m. on a Sunday, Horn played a set full of original tracks and jazz standards, each song bleeding into the next. As per a lot of live jazz, her songs often tripled or quadrupled in length with a medley of piano, bass, drums and vocal scat all blending together into a cacophony of improvisation. One moment Horn would be singing lyrics that were present on the studio versions of the tracks, then she would quickly transition into wordless vocals, and the band would follow along with her. The improvisation turned almost every song into a 10-minute monolith of jazz.

Her trademark vocal style is inventive and expressive. Her entire being morphed into an instrument with her voice no longer being there to provide lyrics, but to express a feeling, a beat or a rhythm. It was one of the most impassioned vocal performances I have seen, and that is coming from someone who has been to countless metal shows. She went from high-pitched wails of passion that were so powerful they did not even need a microphone all the way to low-pitched moans that were barely even a whisper. The woman’s range is unbelievable.

Even though Jazzmeia’s vocals were the overall highlight, the talent of the band combined cannot be overlooked. The pianist and bassist always fantastically complimented the vocals, but my one criticism of the act comes from the drummer, which is odd considering the drumming should be the glue holding the rhythm of the act together. The drummer did his job at holding rhythm and supplying a fine beat, but there were quite a number of times an interesting rhythm would come, then the drummer would insert a random fill, showcasing what I like to call “Lars Ulrich Syndrome,” which would work fine, if his fills did not feel so rigid and out of place within the music, making it almost seem as if he was scared to be improvising, yet still wanted to keep things interesting. That is not to say he did a poor job necessarily, but he was far too hesitant with his fills. It was not incredibly noticeable, but when I thought of other drummers who play jazz, it was a little distracting and happened a lot more than once.

Also interesting was the lack of saxophone or any brass horns that are typically present in her studio recordings, resulting in a performance that was slightly more stripped-down, yet never in a way that detracted from the performance. While there was a dichotomy between the artist’s name and the lack of brass horns, Jazzmeia Horn was heavenly live. It is entirely understandable why she was nominated for a Grammy, but while I merely enjoyed her vocals on her two studio albums, I was absolutely blown away by her vocals in a live setting. Beyond some occasional rigid drum fills, the backing band was cohesive and focused. If you can appreciate music that is almost sheer improvisation and features an incredible vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn is a must-see live act.