Yuhan Su: Flying Alone (2013)
The vibraphone has experienced a resurgence in recent years, with numerous talented musicians drawing the spotlight to the instrument. Taiwanese vibraphonist Yuhan Su is another notable exponent. Su moved to the United States in 2008 and studied at Berklee under vibraphone players Dave Samuels and Ed Saindon and marimba player Nancy Zeltsman. Her debut as leader impresses on a number of levels, not the least of which is because these sophisticated compositions command the attention throughout the generous 73 minutes.
Melody is central to Su's writing and her deceptively simple yet graceful melodic lines unfold with an assured sense of composure. The title track sets the blueprint for much of the music. Su and alto saxophonist Rafael Aguiar state the elegant head in unison, with buoyant support from pianist Christian Li, bassist Jeong Lim Yang and drummer Deepak Gopinath. Vibraphonist and saxophonist's telling solos deliver tension and emotion without an undue cascade of notes. Guitarist Publio Delgado's solo has a contemporary edginess, and Li, Yang and drummer Gopinath respond with imaginative accents and counterpoint.
The tightness in the ensemble playing is impressive, as is the space Su affords the individual voices. Su and Aguiar play a supportive role on "There is Something Shiny in the Bottom of the Bottle" as Li, Delgado and Yang all stretch out though it's the haunting melodic thread linking these solos that lingers afterwards. Greater urgency inhabits the bebop-ish contours of "Drive," with water-tight group interplay the backdrop for a scintillating solo from the leader that's full of melodic invention and rhythmic pulse. Gopinath then solos with the impetus of bass and vibraphone, revealing a lightness of touch in his fluid delivery.
Two vocal numbers show another side of Yu's compositional sensibility; a nostalgic, classically tinged piano introduces "Comfort Zone," a delicate duet about understanding and communication, sung in Mandarin Chinese and beautifully played between Li and Su. On the gently meandering "If You Stay" Su's wordless vocal, and Rafael Aguiar's alto saxophone combine in harmonic reverie on a tune somewhat evocative of keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul's "Cannon Ball." Joaniquet's fine solo lends momentum to the mid-section before the harmonics of the head restore a sense of quiet repose. "If You Stay" shifts seamlessly between tempos and features vibrant piano and vibraphone excursions.
Elsewhere, guitar, drums and vibraphones are the protagonists on the atmospheric "Difficulties," where narrative and rhythmic patterns are one and the same. The gently swinging "Sputnik Sweetheart" features another arresting solo from Su; "Origin"---with Joaniquet switching to soprano saxophoneis a tightly woven number whose various strands come together to extol the collective virtues of this group. The bass-driven "Bian Fu" rounds off the set with another dose of bop, with Su at the heart of things.
Su impresses as a composer and leader as much as a soloist on this highly impressive debut. Sophisticated yet accessible, rooted in the tradition and yet refreshingly contemporary, Flying Alone announces a bright new talent who has the potential to become one of the leading vibraphone voices in modern jazz.
Track Listing: Flying Alone; There is Something in the Bottom of the Bottle; Drive; Comfort Zone; If You Stay; Necessaries; Difficulties; Sputnik Sweetheart; Origin; Bian Fu.
Personnel: Yuhan Su: vibraphone, malletkat, vocals (4, 6); Rafael Aguiar: alto saxophone; Cesar Joaniquet: tenor and soprano saxophones; Publio Delgado: guitar; Christian Li: piano; Jeong Lim Yang: acoustic bass; Deepak Gopinath: drums.
Record Label: Inner Circle Music