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Eugenia Choe: Magic Light

Dan McClenaghan By

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It takes nerve to come from (seemingly) out of nowhere to present a piano trio disc. The history runs deep there: Bud Powell, Tommy Flanagan, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett—just a scratching of the surface of the bop and post bebop players in the game.

Eugenia Choe, a new-to-the-scene New York-based pianist, enters the arena in a big way with her debut, Magic Light, and not—as might be expected—on a set heavy on the Standards. Eight of the ten tunes on the disc are Choe originals, with Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" and Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low" serving as the familiar touchstones.

For top level piano trio players, technical excellence is the norm. The artist who rises above the crowd is the one who injects the music with the essence of their being, their soul, and brings a personal (bio) luminescence to the sound. Choe does that, deftly, already. Light is something of a theme here. The disc's opener, "Shades of Light" and the title tune, and Carter's "When Lights are Low," are all subtly crafted gems, glowing on multiple facets, painted in an impressionist style of diffuse light and muted colors. The tunes have a liquid architecture and an entrancing shape-shifting quality.

Choe's "Petals," a brief opening of a delicate blossom, leads into a lovely reading of Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing." The title tune, perhaps the only jazz piece ever inspired by a jellyfish, is a small masterpiece of composition and delivery, with the work of Choe's marvelous band mates—drummer Alex Wyatt and bassist Danny Weller—punching up the sound with assertively intricate interplay.

Everything's here: the pianist's exquisite touch, her compositional acumen infused with an alluring and idiosyncratic intelligence, her soul, sympatico trio mates, adept sequencing, and a cool cover photo and design. This could be the debut of the year.

Track Listing: Shades Of Light; Koquirri; Petals; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Magic Light; Scattered Chant; Maison De Cresent; When Lights Are Low; Where Our Hearts Stay; Astor Botanic.

Personnel: Eugenia Choe: piano; Danny Weller: bass; Alex Wyatt: drums.

Title: Magic Light | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Steeplechase Productions

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