All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

388

Helen Sung at Dizzy's San Diego

Dan McClenaghan By

Sign in to view read count

Helen Sung
Dizzy's San Diego
September 23, 2010
Helen Sung came to jazz relatively late, during her classical music studies at University of Texas at Austin. After listening to Houston-bred and now New York-based pianist Helen Sung perform at Dizzy's in San Diego, it's hard to imagine her as a classical player, where precision and perfection of technique and adherence to the traditions sit up much more front and center than they do in jazz.

Sung and her quartet, touring in support of the pianist's Going Express (Sunnyside Records, 2010), swung hard and well, explored freedom and abandon and surprise and an unfettered joy that seemed to surge off the leader in waves and wash over a rapt and attentive audience.

Opening with one of Chick Corea's "Children's Songs," Sung and her band mates churned into a turbulent, John Coltrane-like (Impulse! Records era) momentum, full of furious abstraction. Sung's California touring band, with Hamilton Price on bass, Bob Reynolds on soprano and tenor saxophones, along with drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, give the tune dark hues of the soundtrack to a children's tale full of ominous atmospherics, full of trolls and dangerous deep-shade forests.

From there the group segued into the title tune for Sung's Going Express. The Sung original is frenetic and full speed ahead, and it evolved into a maelstrom on the power of Smith's explosive drumming, with Sung matching her drummer's energy level—no small fete.

Sung took things into a gentler realm with the American Songbook standard, "Never Let me Go," with a delicate, lilting piano approach, showcasing her ability to take a familiar ballad and treat it respect while imbuing it with her own personality.

Sung is a superb interpreter of Thelonious Monk. She closed her debut release, Push (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2004) with the Monk's "Ugly Beauty," and included "Bya Ya" on her marvelous Helenistique (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006), as well as covering—on that same set—one of Monk's favorite vehicles, "Sweet and Lovely." At the San Diego show she offered up an inspired, crowd-pleasing takes, in medley, of Monk's "In Walked Bud," "Eronel" and "Bye Ya," that had the band, and the audience, locked in to a collective adventure of Sung's exuberant and on-edge exploration of the legendary pianist/composer's tunes.

A highlight in a consistently exciting show was the tune "Bitter," written by the boundary-pushing bassist/composer/performer Meshell Ndegeocello. Bob Reynolds introduced the tune with a Ben Webster woosh on his tenor saxophone, before lending the gentle and introspective, and gorgeous, melody a haunting feeling in front of the deft sparkle of Sung's embellishments.

An artist in the throes of spontaneous creation certainly experiences a sense of joy and wonder. That was obviously the case with Helen Sung this night in San Diego, and it was contagious. In a city not known for its support or enthusiasm for jazz, the near-full house audience was attentive, and genuinely enthusiastic between tunes, rewarding the pianist and her band a heartfelt and extended standing ovation at the show that closed with another highlight: a particulary rousing rendition of her original composition/homage to her hometown, Houston, Texas—"H*Town," from her Helenistique CD.

Helen Sung has come into her own as a major artist. Her San Diego show was a marvelous, energized, spirited set of sounds. Live jazz doesn't get any better.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Flow Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Flow Festival 2018
by Anthony Shaw
Published: August 14, 2018
Read Shipp / Lowe / Baker / Ray at Le Poisson Rouge Live Reviews
Shipp / Lowe / Baker / Ray at Le Poisson Rouge
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 13, 2018
Read 3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition Live Reviews
3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition
by Ian Patterson
Published: August 9, 2018
Read Live From Brussels: Turkish Psychedelic Nite, Charlemagne Palestine & Anna Von Hausswolff Live Reviews
Live From Brussels: Turkish Psychedelic Nite, Charlemagne...
by Martin Longley
Published: August 9, 2018
Read Papanosh in a Finnish Forest Live Reviews
Papanosh in a Finnish Forest
by Anthony Shaw
Published: August 8, 2018
Read Odean Pope Quartet at Chris’ Jazz Café Live Reviews
Odean Pope Quartet at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: August 7, 2018
Read "Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium" Live Reviews Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: September 16, 2017
Read "Athens Aqua Jazz Festival 2018" Live Reviews Athens Aqua Jazz Festival 2018
by Francesco Martinelli
Published: July 14, 2018
Read "Nice Jazz Festival 2018" Live Reviews Nice Jazz Festival 2018
by Martin McFie
Published: August 1, 2018
Read "Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola" Live Reviews Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: September 7, 2017
Read "Vijay Iyer at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews Vijay Iyer at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: February 4, 2018