After his previous album, I Am Not A Virus (Big Round Records, 2021), inspired by the ongoing fight against racial prejudice, Jordan VanHemert releases Nomad, continuing to explore and embrace his Asian American identity. As the liner note says, this album is a celebration of Korean culture "through the melodies of both ancient & contemporary folk & children's songs, distilled through a modern jazz aesthetic."
The opening tracks sound like a traditional saxophone trio similar to Sonny Rollins' trio sound. If it is not the title of track two, "Imjin River Song," one could mistakenly think that it is some jazz standardprobably because Korean folk music is based on the pentatonic sonority that makes it common with jazz. The Imjin River (a natural border of North and South Korea) is a symbol of freedom but, at the same time, is nicknamed the River of Dead, which can open a deeper subtext to this instrumental track.
The lyrical track three ("Half Moon") breaks and exceeds the expectations of a traditional saxophone trio album. On his personal page, VanHermert reflects on the recording of this track: "Every musician involved in the session contributed their best sound and the improvisation in the moment led to some truly beautiful places." The delicate and intimate voice of Sharon Cho brings a listener to some other world. Even without understanding the meaning of the text, "Half Moon" evokes a sense of nostalgia. It ends with a solo piano playing as a music box and bringing back the memories of one's childhood.
After a few more instrumental tracks, vocal track seven, "Arirang Alone," sounds refreshing and familiar at the same time. The instrumental version of this piece (track five) prepares a listener for the return of this theme. In the vocal version, the piano solo by Lisa Sung flows seamlessly like a continuation of the main theme. Meditative VanHemert's solo yet again evokes a sense of nostalgia.
The closing track eight ("Half Moon") is an instrumental recap of the vocal track three that brings back the traditional saxophone trio sound. In search of "home" through the blending of his favorites traditions, VanHemert contributes with Nomad to further expansion of the stylistic borders of jazz.
Bird, Bird, Bluebird; Imjin River Song; Half Moon (Vocal); Doraji Taryeong (White Mountain Flower); Arirang
Alone (Instrumental); Spring in My Hometown; Arirang Alone (Vocal); Half Moon (Instrumental).