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Connie Han: Crime Zone

Chris Mosey By

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Connie Han, dressed in skin-tight leather, tosses back her long and lustrous black hair, then walks like a prowling cat to the piano. She sits down, doesn't smile, looks darkly at the keyboard. She pauses then starts playing a percussive riff. Lights! The band emerges from the shadows and falls in behind her.

Han, aged 22, from Los Angeles, has been playing piano and dreaming of this moment since she was five years old. "Another Kind of Right," the first number on Crime Zone, is a tune she wrote with Freddie Hubbard's "One of Another Kind" in mind. It's tough and provocative, just her style. She says, "The bridge is a swaggering Freddie Hubbard style of playing. Bill Wysaske (her drummer and general musical guru) arranged and curated a lot of what goes on here. It was his idea to make the transition from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes for my solo. It gives the music a breath of fresh air. The song is definitely inspired by that post-bop, pre-fusion sound straight out of the late '60s and early '70s." Han knows where she's coming from and where she's going. With this album she's booking a place as a star in the jazz firmament of tomorrow.

Her music, especially the second song, "By The Grace Of God," is often surprisingly gentle and reflective, though her touch is usually percussive. Nothing wrong with that; so was Randy Weston's (not to mention that of the pianist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra).

The title track is composed around a very catchy left hand riff. "Southern Rebellion" features a muscular dialogue between Han and Wysaske, the sort of thing that was part of the pianist's jazz education. She says that, because she never received formal training from a jazz piano teacher, most of her musical perspective came from interacting with professional drummers: "I was just a youngster, trying to hang on for dear life." This is where the heavily percussive elements of her playing come from.

Han praises her parents (both classical musicians) "for insisting I practice, even when I wasn't feeling up to it." She says she became interested in jazz at 14 and names her "piano heroes" as Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. She stresses the importance of playing with others and says, "It takes a lot of time and patience to internalize the essence and heartbeat of jazz."

Wysaske produced the album and co-wrote nearly all the songs with Han. The exceptions are Stephen Sondheim's "Pretty Women," Joe Henderson's "A Shade Of Jade," and "Is That So?" by the late Duke Pearson, pianist, composer and record producer who helped to shape the Blue Note label's hard bop direction in the '60s.

Han is on Fender Rhodes again for the relaxed, gently swinging and catchy "Gruvy," which features a solo from bassist Edwin Livingston, the rhythmic linchpin of her band who has performed with everyone from the Wichita Symphony Orchestra to Elvin Jones, Albert "Tootie" Heath and the late Aretha Franklin.

Watch out for Connie Han, the face (and shape) of jazz to come.

Track Listing: Another Kind of Right; Crime Zone; By the Grace of God; Pretty Women; Southern Rebellion; Gruvy; A Shade of Jade; Member This; Is That So?; Extended Stay.

Personnel: Connie Han: piano, Fender Rhodes; Edwin Livingston: bass; Bill Wysaske: drums; Walter Smith III: tenor saxophone (1-4, 9); Brian Swartz: trumpet (1).

Title: Crime Zone | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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