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It's always a good sign when the opening cut has you snapping your fingers about fifteen seconds in.
Push is pianist Helen Sung's debut effort. The song that elicited the fingersnaps is "Conundrum," a swinger that features some clean-lined tenor sax work by Marcus Strickland. It hits a groove early, and a couple of minutes in Sung sparkles into an effervescent solo. The pianistwho semi-finaled in the 1999 Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competitionexhibits some sharp angularities again when the sax blows back in.
"Vivacity" is the word that keeps coming to mind as I listen to Ms. Sung's music. Her approach brims with life, solid compositions and fine playing. "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back," sans saxwith percussionist Jeffrey Haynes joining the pianist,along with drummer Brian Blade and bassist Richie Goodsbubbles and jumps. Helen Sung isit's obvioushaving a helluva good time as her imagination soars.
The disc's title tune features a marvelously imaginative Sung solo and some of Strickland's finest blowing on the set. Sung has a way of keeping the listener on her/his toes as the rhythm guys settle into a groove behind her while she takes the melody on some surprising twists and turns.
The set is a nicely arranged mix of trio/quartet, up-tempo/ballad offerings, and Marcus Strickland switches from tenor to soprano to keep the sound interesting. The song "Bittersweet" sounds just like its title, with the soprano and piano playing the opposing emotions. "The Waiting Game" sounds Monk-ish, and the record closes on a perfect note with Thelonious's "Ugly Beauty," a pensive little solo gem in the hands of Helen Sung.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.