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NYC-based, Korean Born Jazz Vocalist/Songwriter Hyeonseon Baek Releasing His Bold Debut Album 'Longing'

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Korean jazz vocalist reaches for new, risk-taking adventures, reflected not only in his voice but in the wonderful, fresh arrangements that his musical group offers. His tenor voice impresses me, and notably, Hyeonseon has a style all his own.
—Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs
Hyeonseon Baek
KOREAN JAZZ VOCALIST HYEONSEON BAEK TO RELEASE DEBUT ALBUM LONGING

Featuring Kevin Hays, Linda May Han Oh, Lucas Pino, Joechen Rueckert Released on April 26, 2024 on You & Me Music


Possessing a pure, flexible, expressive tenor voice, Korean singer Hyeonseon Baek is poised to launch his professional career with his stunning debut CD, Longing, on the You & Me label. Baek moved to New York City in January 2020, following graduation from Maastricht University in The Netherlands. He was barely settled into his new surroundings when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Baek made the daily Amtrak commute from New York to Boston, where he studied for (and recently received) a master’s degree in jazz.

Baek says that his goal is to cross cultural and generational boundaries, creating music that combines traditional jazz with a modern approach that will appeal to younger audiences. To achieve those artistic heights, he has partnered with some of New York's finest progressive jazz musicians, including woodwind specialist Lucas Pino, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Joechen Rueckert. Their love of risk-taking and musical adventure is reflected in Baek's daring approaches to jazz standards like “Lush Life," “The Peacocks," and “Black Narcissus." Further, the group's preparedness allowed them to work efficiently in the studio, maintaining a fresh and consistent approach to every song on the disc.

The album opens with a mystical take on Duke Ellington's “Caravan." Baek's voice loosely works through the melody hinting at the myriad creative directions possible with this standard. Oh and Rueckert maintain the complex broken time feel throughout the track, and Hays, Pino and Baek respond with inspired improvisations. “Black Narcissus" continues the exotic mood with a free wordless vocal introduction followed by Joe Henderson's intricate melody sung with pinpoint accuracy. Baek engages Hays in improvised counterpoint before Oh's lyric solo. Charles Mingus' paean to the master, “Duke Ellington's Sound of Love," receives a rare vocal interpretation with Baek singing Mingus' original lyrics with the same conviction as if he had written them himself. Baek's voice bears an unmistakable resemblance to Chet Baker and while the trumpeter never recorded this piece, it's easy to imagine Baker making similar artistic choices to what Baek sings here.

The central portion of the album focuses on Baek's original compositions. “West Fourth Street," a tribute to the Greenwich Village club scene, appears twice, first in a macaronic version jumping between Korean and English, and then in an all-English version at the end. The first version displays Baek's razor-sharp precision while performing a complex bop melody, while the final version includes the names of many of Baek's greatest influences. Both takes feature solos by Pino, Baek, and Hays, but close listening reveals substantial differences in each soloist's approach to the tune on succeeding takes. The title track refers to the kind of self-examination everyone does at some point of their life. Baek's expressive scat over the closing vamp is most impressive. Oh's complex bass line on “My Temptation" anchors a sensuous groove under Baek's mysterious vocal, which describes a love that might be real or imagined.

For the album's third act, Baek delves into three of the greatest ballads in the jazz repertoire. He inhabits the world of Billy Strayhorn's “Lush Life," avoiding the lyric's many traps—specifically on the words “jazz," “distingué" and “rot"—while singing the melody with deep emotion and stunning accuracy. Jimmy Rowles' “The Peacocks" (appearing here in Norma Winstone's lyric version, “A Timeless Place") finds Baek singing in free rubato rhythms over a surprisingly active rhythm feel, and never mis-reading any of the melody's angular leaps. Horace Silver's deceptively simple composition “Peace" opens with a stunning unaccompanied introduction by Oh before Baek delivers a powerful reading of the melody, summoning all of his technical and emotional powers into an unforgettable 10-bar statement.

At 32 years old, Hyeonseon Baek has a great career ahead of him, with untold musical discoveries yet to be realized. Baek set out to make an album of traditional jazz with a modern approach. With his appealing, soulful vocals and top-notch scat skills, backed by a first-rate band, Baek has eminently achieved his goals on Longing.

About Hyeonseon Baek

Hyeonseon Baek discovered his love of music at the age of 8 when he sang in the school choir. He was obsessed with soul and R&B artists including Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, and Donny Hathaway, and countless pop musicians. He soon became fascinated by jazz after listening to recordings by Mel Torme and Carmen McRae. He received a Holland National Excellence scholarship and earned a Bachelor of Music degree in the Netherlands in 2019. In his last year as an undergraduate, Baek received a grant to travel to New York City. He was inspired by the intense art scene there and soon thereafter moved to the United States and received a scholarship for the prestigious New England Conservatory where he earned a Master of Music degree.

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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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