Taiwanese pianist Francis Hon didn't plan on becoming a jazz musician. But, during his doctoral studies in piano performance at the University of Texas, he met Jeff Hellmer, Director of Jazz Studies at the university, and that connection initiated Hon's pathway into the world of jazzone he further explored during an eventual move to New York to intensively study jazz at NYU. On Before Dawn, his debut trio album, Hon shows that his thorough immersion in jazz has been time well spent.
Joined by veteran drummer Billy Drummond and fellow up-and-comer, bassist Jeong Hwan Park, Hon offers four of his own compositions and three others, Bobby Hutcherson's "Little B's Poem," Alec Wilder and Morty Palitz's "While We're Young," and Michael Jackson's "Stranger in Moscow." With a confident, graceful tone and a smart harmonic sensibility, Hon reveals his ample debt to Bill Evans, the warm romanticism of "While We're Young" making that parallel unmistakable. So, too, does Hon's predilection for waltzes, as three of the pieces utilize a 3/4 time-signature to excellent effect. It helps that Hon's partners Drummond and Park provide rhythmically supple support, with tasteful interjections that don't get in the way of Hon's ideas. Park's nimble basswork is especially worthy of mention, as he generates a good deal of the momentum on "Little B's Poem," where his adroit lines are the perfect complement to Hon's runs. Hon and Park have played together previously in another of Hon's projects, the World Jazz Quintet, and their synchronicity is abundantly evident in their rapport throughout the record.
Although most of the music on Before Dawn fits comfortably in the modern straight-ahead piano-trio vein, Hon does reveal a bit of his interest in other idioms, whether on "Morning Star," an impressionistic solo piece with a classical temperament, or his take on pop music with "Stranger in Moscow," reminiscent of the kind of reworkings pianists like Vijay Iyer and Brad Mehldau have tackled. But while these endeavors may bear more fruit for Hon in the future, for now he seems to find his sweet-spot right in the middle of the jazz spectrum, as his work on the album's title track makes clear. Built around a lovely tune, with Drummond and Park providing that insistent waltz tempo with which Hon thrives, it furnishes the perfect opportunity for Hon to delve deeply into the jazz tradition. And, with his harmonic concept at its most sophisticated, it's the record's best evidence that Hon has a promising career ahead of him in this music.
Little B’s Poem; Blue Moon; Momentarily; Before Dawn; Morning Star; While We’re Young; Stranger in Moscow
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