New York-based pianist Helen Sung's debut as a leader, Push (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003), featured mostly original tunes. For her sophomore effort, Sung has chosen some jazz standards, a Prince tune, and one from her own pen, "H*Town," an homage to her hometown of Houston, Texas.
In covering jazz standards, one measure of success is how well the artist makes them his or her own. In this very engaging and successful piano trio effort, Sung does just that, breathing life into Rodgers & Hart's "Lover," one of Thelonous Monk's favorites, "Sweet and Lovely," Joe Henderson's classic "Black Narcissus," and Ellington's "Cottontail." She also includes an effervescent take on James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout" and a quite original and energetic reading of Monk's "Bye Ya."
In reviewing Push, I noted Sung's vivacity. She brings that quality back on Helenistique, with more authority, zest and swing, injecting her own personality into some time-tested compositions. She is obviously in love with the craft of creating sounds, and she does an admirable and unfailingly interesting job of it here.
In drummer Lewis Nash and bassist Derrick Hodges, she's found like-minded musical soulmates, and both get their chances to shine (check out "Bye Ya"). As a pianist, Sung has a light, Red Garland-like touch, with perhaps more energy and forward momentum. Her take on Kenny Barron's "Voyage" swings hard and fast, with some superb piano accompaniment behind a nice Hodge bass solo. "Willow Weep for Me" is a personal favorite. In lesser hands, the tune can have a cocktail lounge feeling, but Sung and company spice it up and stretch it out, giving it a modern twist.
An excellent piano trio set!
H*Town; Lover; Sweet and Lovely; Voyage; Willow Weep For Me; Where or When; Black
Narcissus; Bye Ya; Cottontail; Carolina Shout; Alphabet Street; H*Town (reprise).
Helen Sung: piano; Derrick Hodge: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.
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