At the 2019 Detroit Jazz Festival, pianist Connie Han dazzled the crowd with a superb and well-paced set which was one of the best performances of the weekend. Although her Mack Avenue debut, Crime Zone, had hit the streets in 2018, Han's musical acumen was still hovering below the radar of most jazz listeners. The key to Han's refreshing approach is that she operates in a zone that respects the lexicon while also finding new territory of its own to explore.
Void of hip hop beats, preachy sermons, or avant clichés, Han's latest set further proves that the field is wide open for a talent of her depth and substance. "Iron Starlet" opens with a swaggering take on the kind of fodder that Herbie Hancock explored on early sets like Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage. Aided and abetted by bassist Ivan Taylor and drummer Bill Wysaske, Han spins her telling yarn with fluidity and technical proficiency.
In addition to being a musical drummer with chops to burn, Wysaske also serves as producer and composer of three of the tracks. His "Nova" effortlessly slides into a 5/4 groove with saxophonist Walter Smith III and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt volleying the open line back and forth. Underneath it all, Wysaske's brushes fan the flames and Han sings on the Fender Rhodes with crystalline phrases. Wysaske's other two originals are of contrasting character, the pensive "Captain's Song" offering up some burnished brilliance from Pelt. The more upbeat "Boy Toy" sports Smith's breathy tone and the effortless swing of the leader.
Han pens some choice items of her own and each one offers a different vista for exploration. "Mr. Dominator" serves up the swagger its title suggests, Han slowly building the momentum of her spacious solo. Room is allowed for mature statements from Taylor and Wysaske as well. By contrast, "Dark Chambers" is a burner of great combustibility, while "The Forsaken" wistfully speaks in hushed tones while illuminating Han's superb touch.
Wysaske sagaciously updates two classics for the ensemble with splendid results. Joe Chambers' "Hello to the Wind" comes from Bobby Hutcherson's 1970 Blue Note album Now. Han uses the Fender Rhodes with flair and in a manner which fits well with the song's personality. The standard "Detour Ahead" romantically comes in on a whisper, complemented by Taylor's arco bass. Unlike many of her peers, Han avoids reharmonization to the point that the tune becomes unrecognizable. Instead, she utilizes single note runs that build to an apex, before the melody returns like a feather floating to the ground.
Iron Starlet; Nova; Mr. Dominator; For the O.G.; Hello to the Wind; Detour Ahead; Captain's Song; Boy Toy; The
Forsaken; Dark Chambers.
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