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Taiwanese-born pianist Jo-Yu Chen is going somewhere. The cover photo of her Incomplete Soul shows the artist in the back seat of a car, gazing at an indeterminate distance, with a look of quiet, unyielding determination on her face. Her journey with this recording is one of a melding of her classical influences with the improvisational aspect of jazz, and to an extent an East/West blend of sound. She begins with her original, "The Wandering Songstress," opening with the eerily voice-like cry of the Chinese ehru, a two-string violin. The wandering strings give way to the piano trio, and the sedate intro mutates to a prickly and audacious momentum that leans out over the edge before a closing shift into a drifting piano reverie.
Chen is not a cautious artist. More than any other format except for solo piano, the art of the piano trio is one in which the personality/artistic vision of the leader can't help but rise up unadorned. Chen hasn't let her classical background constrain her: "Chess 1" slides back and forth between reverie and adventure over some inspired drum work from Tommy Crane, who punctuates the steady foundation with which bassist Christopher Tordini augments Chen's percussive angles.
The title tune searches, with Tordini's big notes bouncing off Chen's succinct phrases, while "Improv 1" flies out over the edge, the trio bursting into flight in a fractured and fractious mood that coalesces into a tranquil fadeout.
The Chen-penned "Love Letter" opens with a five-note bass declaration that sets the stage for a somber mood which sounds like love of the wistful or unrequited kind, while "Tipsy Cat" has the jauntiness, bravado and devil-may-care attitude of incipient intoxication.
The compositions on Incomplete Soul are mostly Chen's. She has a gift for a memorable melody and true voice of her own, and writes a killer rock song with "Follow Me." Hers is, indeed, a piano voice to follow.
Track Listing: Wandering Songstress; Chess; Incomplete Soul; Improv 1; Black Forest; Love Letter; Tipsy Cat; Departure; Improv 2; Dreamer; Follow Me; Improv 3; Red Bean.
Personnel: Jo-Yu Chen: piano; Christopher Tordini: bass; Tommy Crane: drums; Andy Lin: erhu (1).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.