With her rich, engaging debut release, EE-YA-GI (Stories), composer Hyeseon Hong brings her own unique approach to contemporary jazz. Using a first-rate large ensemble to showcase her compositions, she takes traditional folk forms, particularly from her native Korea, and develops them with modern big-band jazz voicings. The result is an eminently listenable and enjoyable recording, one that reveals new nuances and subtle pleasures with each encounter.
The album's opener, "Harvest Dance," captures Hong's modus operandi perfectly. With a simple Korean melody and rhythm at its core, the piece takes on its distinctive shape through Hong's use of the band to expand upon the piece's theme, as the multiple layers reveal new dimensions of the tune as it unfolds. The wordless vocals of E.J. Park also lend depth to the track, as do the vigorous solos provided by trombonist Ron Wilkens and trumpeter Ingrid Jensenthe latter one of the two guest musicians given special billing on the album (the other being tenor saxophonist Rich Perry). Although the folk melody of "Harvest Dance" never recedes, the piece is unmistakably jazz-based, with the rhythm team of bassist John Lenis and drummer Mark Ferber keeping the music rooted in a gentle, swinging groove. "Boat Song" is another piece which delves directly into Hong's Korean influences, with a traditional vocal part from Subin Park that lends a poignant quality to the piece's beautiful melody, and which also features Perry on an expansive, tour-de-force solo.
But Hong's versatility isn't limited to what she can do with traditional Korean musical forms, as other tracks highlight additional influences. Guitarist Matt Panayides provides some punchy power chords to anchor the upbeat, driving theme of "Friends or Lovers," with Matt Vashlishan joining in on EWI to give the track an even more contemporary feel, while the subtle Bossa Nova rhythms of "Para Mi Amigo Distante" are infectious in supporting another of Hong's lovely melodies. And for the record's quirkiest tune, the delightfully titled "Trash Digging Queen (Story of Nica, the Dog)," Hong's catchy arrangement uses the entire band to great effect in providing plenty of mirth and energy.
An excellent debut recording from an artist who should remain on the radar of all lovers of contemporary big-band music, Hong's EE-YA-GI is a keeper.
Harvest Dance; Friends or Lovers; Para mi Amigo Distante; Boat Song; Disappearing into Foam; Trash Digging Queen; Love Song.
Hyeseon Hong: composer, arranger, director; Augie Haas: trumpet; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet; Jason Wiseman: trumpet; Colin Brigstocke: trumpet; Ben Kono: alto, soprano sax, flute; Matt Vashlishan: alto, flute, EWI; Rich Perry: tenor sax; Jeremy Powell: tenor sax, clarinet; Andrew Hadro: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Ron Wilkens: trombone; Daniel Linden: trombone; Ric Becker: trombone; Becca Patterson: trombone; Matt Panayides: guitar; Broc Hempel: piano; John Lenis: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; E.J. Park: vocals; Subin Park: vocal (4).