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Jo-Yu Chen: Obsession

Dan Bilawsky By

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Japanese musicians get most of the ink when jazz sights turn to Asian-born wonders, but pianist Jo-Yu Chen is proof that Taiwan has its fair share of homegrown talent. Chen has been making waves over the past few years, self-releasing her Sam Yahel-produced debut, joining the fold as a Steinway Artist and, most recently, signing with Sony Music Taiwan.

On Obsession, she shows no signs of slowing down, on a something-for-everyone program that can keep people guessing about who the real Jo-Yu Chen actually is. Her outré interests come to the fore on "Walking In B's Shoes," which bookends some loose and playful communication with angular lines. Bassist Christopher Tordini and Chen are partners in crime on Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation," supporting each other's statements while drummer Tommy Crane provides kaleidoscopic shifts in groove beneath them. Chen uses her solo piano cadenza as an opportunity to blend serenity and uncertainty, building on the mystery that's embedded in the compositional DNA of Coleman's work.

While that personality may appeal to some, it's only one of many that crop up. Chen the balladeer surfaces on "I Fall In Love Too Easily," "Waiting For The Spring Breeze"—a Taiwanese folk song that comes off like a Randy Newman film score piece—and "Cry Me A River," which is dubbed a bonus track and has drummer Tyshawn Sorey replacing Crane. Odd-metered originals ("Sunday Rain" and "Obsession"), cheery swing (Cole Porter's "Everything I Love"), funky Gershwin ("Summertime") and brooding, organic fare ("Baby, You Are Fired!") further the impression of Chen as Jo-Yu of all trades and master of most.

Chen's background in classical music informs her touch and technique, but her music is worlds away from its play-by-the-rules playbook. She values space and seduction over speed, and her selflessness helps to create a truly balanced trio scenario, as opposed to the many "piano with bass and drum backing" performances that pass for balanced ensembles these days. While Chen's arrival on a major label will likely raise her profile in the near future, her talent, drive, originality and willingness to follow her own course will serve her well in the long haul.

Track Listing: Baby, You Are Fired!; Sunday Rain; Everything I Love; Waiting For The Spring Breeze; Obsession; Walking In B's Shoes; Tears; I Fall In love Too Easily; Blues Connotation; Summertime; Cry Me A River.

Personnel: Jo-Yu Chen: piano; Chris Tordini: bass; Tommy Crane: drums (1-10); Tyshawn Sorey: drums (11).

Title: Obsession | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Sony Music Taiwan

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