As soon as New York City entered a first lockdown in March 2020, double bass player Dezron Douglas and jazz harpist Brandee Younger launched a series of live streams on Facebook and Instagram Live from their East Harlem flat. Dubbed “Force Majeure: Brunch in the crib with Brandee & Dezron”, the Friday morning concerts articulated with great precision the early 2020 lockdown experience for many performing musicians suddenly deprived of a major source of income. They also introduced to many the rarely heard and glorious pairing of bass and harp.

Following the same working method as on Makaya McCraven’s magnificent 2018 Universal Beings (both Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger took part in the New-York side), the ten tracks on Force Majeure were curated from hours of informal live music into a superb selection of jazz classics, contemporary popular songs – from The Stylistics and The Jackson 5 to Sting and Kate Bush – and one new composition. Force Majeure was released on Chicago’s International Anthem on 4 December 2020 last.

Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger - Force Majeure (2020)
Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger – Force Majeure (2020)

Double bassist Dezon Douglas and Harpist Brandee Younger have been performing and recording professionally since the mid-2000s either as sideman, leader or on each other’s records. Both musicians also happen to be husband and wife and initially met at The Hartt School performing arts conservatory in Connecticut.

Over the year, audiences have perhaps been conditioned to expect a double bass or a harp as instruments within at least a trio formation, a band, a larger ensemble or an orchestra. All of Brandee Younger recordings to date feature at least a quartet. After the first few bars of each piece on Force Majeure, the casual listener will probably expect a lead saxophone, a piano, a guitar or even a voice to take over the main melody line. However, these never turn up, thus forcing the listener to revert his or her attention back to the rare instrumental combination and bask in their gorgeous sonic synergy.

With the double bass’ huge hollowed body and the harp’s large soundbox, the two stringed instruments vibrate in unison and magically supplement each other through their respective resonance, especially when both instruments converge on the same bass lines.

Dezon Douglas & Brandee Younger – Toilet Paper Romance (comp. Douglas – Younger) / Rama Rama (comp. Alice Coltrane) / Foligno (comp. Dezron Douglas) / Reclamation (comp. Brandee Younger) / Journey in Satchidananda/Blue Nile (comp. Alice Coltrane).

The duo revisit a 1968 Alice Coltrane number “Gospel Trane” as well as two classic John Coltrane compositions. The mood is casual and conversational throughout with snippets of live commentary and reactions. “That makes me happy” remarks Brandee Younger at the end of “Sing”, one of Sesame Street’s signature songs. Or “This make me cry” after performing the 1971 Jackson 5 number “Never Can Say Goodbye”. On the 3 minute invocation of Pharoah Sanders’ much longer “The Creator Has a Masterplan”, Dezron and Brandee call to each other the correct chord sequence.  

Dezron Douglas takes over the reins on Sting’s 2016 “Inshallah”, the only solo piece on the recording. The new composition “Toilet Paper Romance” also captures an early “glimpse of the New York City quarantine scene” when people were stockpiling on essential supplies.

Doing away with traditional recording studio overdubbing and production, even without the usual live audience of a pop up venue or a jazz club physically present in the room, Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger nevertheless manage to capture the essence of the live jazz performance, supporting Dezron Douglas’ mantra throughout the shows that “Black Music cannot be replicated, it can only be expressed!”. Performers and audience are on an equal footing here with the musicians in their living room broadcasting directly through a single microphone to listeners in their own living room.

Sometimes it was hard to be creative because the mood in the world was so dark, but every Friday we felt compelled to give back and allow GOD to heal through vibration. Whatever the next thing is, I will make it a point to be involved because Music saved my life, saves lives, and must be taken care of. Dezron Douglas

The French expression “Force Majeure” is a small print and rarely invoked legal clause on musician’s contracts. It refers to the inability to fulfil a professional commitment due to unforeseeable circumstances. Against all expectations, the Covid 19 pandemic triggered the clause for most working musicians.

As well as that, the successive murders of Ahmaud Arbery (to whom Dezron Douglas dedicates the superb reprise of John Coltrane’s 1964 “Wise One”), Breonna Taylor and George Floyd all took place while the duo were streaming their weekly brunches, culminating with nationwide Black Lives Matter protests from late May 2020 onwards. In other words, the expression “Force Majeure” equally points to a parallel set of extraordinary events taking place in the background. At that point, the live brunches had morphed into a form of communal healing while providing an elegant reflection on a unique moment in time.

Archives of the Force Majeure streams and new regular brunch concerts are available from the musicians’ Patreon page.