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Helen Sung at Jazz Standard

Ernest Barteldes By

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Helen Sung
Jazz Standard
New York, NY
February 12, 2014

The first set of the CD release celebration for Helen Sung's Anthem For A New Day (Concord, 2014), began with her original tune "Chaos Theory" that started with a percussive introduction by Samuel Torres with the quintet following in a theme that seemed to go into a Latin-inflected direction at first, but then went into more of a contemporary format. There was little improvisation there, as the tune was used as an introduction.

Sung then led the group into "Brother Thelonious," a Monk-inspired original that began with a flurry of notes from trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, followed by a dexterous solo from saxophonist Seamus Blake. Sung's own improvised part was clearly informed by her previous classical training, as she played syncopated notes against the tempo and also added clever piano riffs to the groove.

The quintet was joined by legendary reeds man Paquito D'Rivera for Chick Corea's "Armando's Rhumba." Sung effectively relinquished the leadership for that tune, and D'Rivera led the ensemble masterfully. Torres played the cajón and hi-hats while drummer Obed Calvaire kept a steady backbeat, and during his solo D'Rivera did a great call-and-response improvisation with Sung. The sextet immediately followed with Thelonious Monk's "Vaya," and Blake pretty much stepped aside so D'Rivera could be the main reed on the group as he played a beautiful solo, which was followed by Jensen, who started improvising quite subtly. After a few bars her solo grew into something much bigger, with long notes and creative riffs.

The group was clearly in a light mood during the set, and went into a seemingly impromptu take on "Blue Moon." D'Rivera mostly played the main melodic line while the others used the tune's simple blues structure to stretch.

The set ended with Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing," performed in a New Orleans-like groove, while all the ensemble's members kept with the playful feel they had during the previous number, often improvising against each other—which was very refreshing to hear, as one rarely hears such a fun set in a room like this one.

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