It's a love story in essence: South Korean classical piano and vocal protégé with multiple competition wins, hears jazz in high school; picks up saxophone at nineteen and swaps university computer studies for music; then, as straight and true as Cupid's arrow, heads for Berklee College of Music; New York and a Master's degree in jazz studies duly beckons at NYU Steinhardt, under the tutelage of Kenny Werner
, Joe Lovano
and Ralph Alessi
, among others. The first fruit of Yoonsum Nam's pursuit of jazz, Light of the City
is straight-ahead in concept, but original by design. Kyumin Shim
's punchy piano motif, guitarist Keisuke Matsuno
's peeling notes and a lightly propulsive rhythm announce the up-tempo "Up and Down." On alto, Nam sketches a mellifluous melody before launching into an extended improvisation of keening passion. The intensity drops off, obliging Matsuno to build his solo from the ground up, pulling the quartet along in his slipstream; Nam rejoins, dovetailing with Matsuno's lines in exuberant free-flight before the duo synchronize the run-in to the finishing line. It's a lively opener that sets the blueprint for much of the music that follows.
Tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek
guests on several tracks: on the lyrical title trackdriven by bassist Carlos de Rosa and drummer Jesse Simpson
's lithe industryCheek and Nam alternate between unison lines and solo excursions, with Matsuno also weighing in. The pattern is repeated on "Alice," and whilst the tempo and intensity is more moderate, the playing is no less lyrical, with Shim's brief intervention breaking the mould. The boppish "Myron's Blues" is taken at a clip, with De Rosa's fast-walking bass stoking the quintet engine as first Nam and then Cheek stretch out in style, without indulging in shows of excess.
Whether with two saxophones leading, or whether with saxophone and guitar, the format doesn't stray far from the straight and narrow. Consequently, despite the impressive musicianship there's a certain uniformity throughout the set that's crying out for a shaking-up, a touch of the unpredictable. On "Bohemian Dance with Chagall," alto and guitar switch between unison and individual lines. The melancholy, brushes-kissed "Deeply Sad" offers a sparser sonic frame and mellower dialog. Piano is more prominent on "Bitter" with Nam and Matsuno once again occupying by now familiar roles.
There's greater rhythmic diversity about the breezy "These Are Hard Ties for Dreamers," and a touch of Ahmad Jamal
's "Poinciana" in the underlying motif, stated first by piano and then by bass. Nam, Matsuno and Shim all display uninhibited chops, before guitar and saxophone are drawn to the distinctive head in an upbeat conclusion.
Though a tad predictable, there's still much to admire in the tight arrangements, passionate collective playing and melodious contours that mark Nam's recording debut as leader. It's another significant step in her adventure, her romance with jazz, and it certainly augurs well for future chapters.
Up And Down; Light Of The City; Alice; Bohemian Dance With Chagall; Deeply Sad; Myron's
Blues; Bitter; These Are Hard Times For Dreamers.
Yoosun Nam: alto saxophone and soprano saxophone; Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone (2,3,6);
Keisuke Matsuno: guitar; Kyumin Shim: piano; Carlos De Rosa: bass; Jesse Simpson: drums.