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Hyeonseon Baek: Longing

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Hyeonseon Baek: Longing
Any vocalist who can call upon top-shelf talent in support of their debut recording is worth hearing. Hyeonseon Baek is no exception. The South Korean singer, who has studied at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and at the New England Conservatory, has already forged the connections that should allow him to distinguish himself in the jazz world. Aided by pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Jochen Rueckert, along with a few guest tracks from tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino, Longing reveals a promising talent on the rise.

A few bars into the opener, "Caravan," one is struck by Baek's velvety tenor, floating its way atop the limber groove provided by the group, as he embodies the perfect combination of insouciance and wonder. Baek does not take too many chances, but his command is unmistakable, owning each phrase and offering the occasional flourish needed to put his stamp on the piece. The selection of classics is spot-on throughout the disc. Baek's nimble interpretation of Joe Henderson's "Black Narcissus" is absolutely convincing, enhanced by his searching wordless vocals in close dialogue with Oh and Hays. Charles Mingus' "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" is given a poignant treatment, augmented by Hays, whose sensitive commentary and jaunty solo add just the right amount of feeling to the piece. Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and Jimmy Rowles and Norma Winstone's "A Timeless Place" are just as skillfully rendered, taken at deliberate tempos which Baek handles with ease. Horace Silver's beautiful ballad "Peace" is introduced by Oh's tuneful rubato opening, inspiring Baek to some of his most heartfelt ruminations on the record.

Baek's compositional abilities are also substantial. Two versions of "West 4th St." are included here; the piece's tribute to the pantheon of jazz greats is equally terrific whether sung in Korean or in English, and Baek's assured scatting, featured on both renditions, is truly its own Esperanto. "Longing" is another winner, with a fluid solo from Hays and more impassioned wordless vocals from Baek at the close of the track. "My Temptation" may be the album's most infectious number, with a lithe groove anchored by Oh and Rueckert which brings out Baek's jauntier side, not to mention a sparkling solo from Pino.

Oozing confidence and authority, Baek's debut is an enjoyable and engaging listen, and an auspicious beginning to what should be a long and fruitful musical journey.

Track Listing

Caravan; Black Narcissus; Duke Ellington's Sound of Love; West 4th St (Kor); Longing; My Temptation; Lush Life; A Timeless Place; Peace; West 4th St (Eng).

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Recorded and mixed by Aaron Nevezie at the Bunker Studio, Brooklyn, NewYork Mastered by Nate Wood at the Kerseboom Mastering Video: by Four/Ten Media LLC

Album information

Title: Longing | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: You&Me Music


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