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Jihee Heo: Flow

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Jihee Heo: Flow
South Korean pianist Jihee Heo has been in New York City since 2009. She arrived to work on her Masters after studies in Amsterdam and has become a fixture on the Gotham club scene, often appearing with a trio or quartet sharing the bandstand with some of the city's finest players. Her new trio plus one effort, Flow (OA2, 2024), is in a way, a documentation of those club performances. Recorded by Maureen Sickler at Rudy Van Gelder's famed studio in Englewood, NJ., Heo brings along bassist Alexander Claffy and drummer Joe Farnsworth for the ride, adding alto giant Vincent Herring as a "plus one" on two tracks. All that is missing is the sound of the audience, which raises a point—why not take some of the daring evident in Heo's playful musical demeanor, and record live in one of the nightspots she inhabits as a performer? One listen to the album, and those concerns melt away. Heo's playing top-notch and her original compositions are fun and interesting. In addition, Sickler's recording work is of such high quality that the sound just jumps out and grabs the listener's attention.

Heo's last two offerings on the Origin platform have embraced the trio format and a straight-ahead approach in contrast to her reputation and slight penchant for experimental sounds and the avant-garde. It seems the pianist has discovered what many of the genre's greats have found—that innovation is not about wonky, constantly changing time signatures or introducing fusions of alternate forms or out-on- the-limb instrumentation. Innovation can occur within form, jumping into a flow of the tradition in transition. In glancing over the credits and seeing Claffy and Farnsworth's work along with that of Herring, it is evident that the premise was well in hand. Added to the fact that one of the two cover tunes recorded is Duke Ellington's elegant classic, "In a Sentimental Mood," the expectation was not one of music outside of the box.

Still, from the opening salvo, "New York Step," a wonderful balance is achieved between this triad, and as mentioned, comes off like a collective group mind achieved over time on the bandstand. Claffy can flat-out swing and is a nice fit with the ever-present and never-too- flashy Farnsworth. "Extreme Noise Blocker" finds Claffy spreading out the cadence a bit, with his rhythm partner following suit with classic, intricate ride cymbal and snare work. Claffy ventures out into a thundering solo supported by Heo's sparse but colorfully harmonic comping. The dynamic backline sets the stage for Heo's lyrical playing, with delicate, intricate figures and stunning chordal harmonizations. Her legato touch and natural sense of dynamics never seems forced.

The album's real outlier is Heo's take on Adolfo Utrera's "Aquellos Ojos Verdes." Heo approaches the bolero with a romantic tilt and great feel. It is one of two cover pieces on the record, along with the aforementioned foray into Ellington's classic ballad. Though expertly performed, there is more of a sense of abandon, of emotive engagement with the pianist's original tunes. Her writing is refreshingly melodic, jumpy, joyous and engaging. "The Hidden Giant" splits the two covers with Heo's sparkling combination of chordal harmonizations and fluid single-note runs joining forces with Herring's interpretation of the melody. The trio and quartet treatment of Heo's gems sound like a step into a late-night New York jazz spot, escaping the manic ebb and flow of the Manhattan night in favor of music that challenges the listener to engage, to gain repose in the moment. Heo's writing is an equally strong partner to her virtuosic command of her instrument. She easily could have eschewed cover tunes on the record and stood on her creative two feet strongly and confidently.

Heo's debut release, Are You Ready (OA2, 2020) was similar in that it was a trio effort embellished by some voice work. It was more of a polished work, a concept album of sorts based on the principles of Robert Henry's "Art Spirit." Alternately, Flow is more about Heo's maturity as a jazz pianist, honed by the many late night gigs on her docket over a decade and a half in New York. Undeniably, it is honest, emotive and satisfying in a total sense for a dedicated jazz listener—something a lot of new generation jazz artists should pay attention to.

Track Listing

New Yorker Step; I Can See Only One Step Ahead; Opening the New Door; Extreme Noise Blocker; Aquellos Ojos Verdes; The Hidden Giant ; In a Sentimental Mood; The Late Bloomer.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Vincent Herring: alto saxophone.

Album information

Title: Flow | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: OA2 Records


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