While Nnenna Freelon never became the pop star Columbia had hoped for, jazz fans never felt a bit of regret. With a style that owes much to Carmen McRae, Freelon has always had her own personal and recognizable style, at least when she’s not been made to conform to some type of pop-influenced producer’s concept of who Freelon should be. Freed of those constraints, Homefree was recorded near her North Carolina home and with her own touring band. This recording more than any of her others captures what the chanteuse actually sounds like in a club, on tour or at a jazz festival.
The strength of this recording is Freelon’s fluid signature phrasing concept given totally free reign. With arrangements that are more open than on other recordings, she’s able to slip and slide her scat interjections and out-of-time phraseology between and betwixt Brandon McCune’s wonderfully artful piano in a manner that honors and recalls those moments when Billie Holiday would fly down one of her own tree-covered lanes in just the same sweetly smooth way. The out of time moments in "The Very Thought Of You" perfectly capture this esthetic. With Ira Wiggins’ saxophone providing classic rejoinders, Freelon is more Freelon than we’ve heard in a long time.
"I Feel Pretty" is another highlight. McCune is at his best here, laying down the foundation in a perfectly understated manner. His many years of working with Freelon pay off handsomely as the two have an unstated empathy for each other’s way with a phrase, and the result is simply sublime. The rocked-out rhythmic backing vamp on the first half of "You And The Night And The Music" can’t help but grow on the listener, and "Cell Phone Blues" is as full of the Delta blues tradition as anyone could imagine.
There are a few missteps. What begins as a superb jazz waltz version of Charlie Chaplin’s "Smile" loses its way during the double-time piano solo middle section that doesn’t seem to correctly fit the emotion expressed early in the arrangement; but you can’t fault Freelon for taking chances because that’s how art is made. On "The Lamp Is Low" Freelon sounds a little thin on some upper notes, but that may be a little too nit-picky. All-in-all, for those who want to know what a concert by this quickly-becoming-jazz-legend is like then this disc is an absolute must.