All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review


Helen Sung: (re)Conception

Dan McClenaghan By

Sign in to view read count
Pianist Helen Sung has got the swing thing down. A graduate of the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, Sung has put out a series of increasingly distinctive CDs, from her ear-grabbing debut, Push (Blue Moon, 2004), to the classical leaning Sungbird (After Albeniz) (Sunnyside, 2007), through to 2010's quintet outing, Going Express (Sunnyside), with a trio stop for the outstanding Helenistque (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006).

A classically-trained pianist who didn't discover jazz until her college years, Sung's conversion to improvisation and swing must certainly have required enormous drive and effort, but it has paid great artistic dividends. On (re)Conception, her fifth CD as a leader, the pianist revisits the trio format, bringing her own original voice into a finer focus on a set of jazz standards, an engaging Burt Bacharach tune, and one first-rate original.

The recording date was called on short notice, which can mean a disaster or a sound full of freshness and spontaneity. Sung's sense of wonder and adventure, in conjunction with an excellent choice of trio mates—drummer Lewis Nash and bassist Peter Washington—strikes a winning note straight through. The title tune, a re-stylizing of pianist George Shearing's 1949-penned "Conception," opens the disc swinging. Sung is virtuosic and full of surprises and the Nash/Washington team supplies an ebullient groove.

Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You" sparkles into a jaunty momentum, with the trio locked into a collective jubilance, while the group's take on Jerry Bock's "Far From Home" shifts gears; a tune that sounds like heartbreak, featuring Sung's intricate and gentle touch and Washington and Nash's understated accompaniment.

The only Sung original, "Duplicity," captures the mood of stealthy deception to perfection, with a prowling rhythm, and a forlorn and sometimes confused feeling from the piano melody.

Sung visits composer/bandleader Duke Ellington's music on the often-recorded "C Jam Blues," with a strutting bounce in its step, and the less familiar but easily swinging "Everything But You." Between those tunes, Sung offers up Bacharach's "Wives and Lovers," treating the pretty melody reverently at first, before stretching out into a vibrant improvisational foray that includes some nice comping behind Nash's energetic bass solo. "Crazy, He Calls Me," a vehicle for vocalist Billie Holiday, has an inward mood, with Sung splashing some new colors on its beautiful melody.

It wouldn't be a Sung standards date without some Thelonious Monk. Whether she is playing the bebop legend's idiosyncratic music in concert or in the studio, Sung always seems to find new angles and bright spots. "Teo" sounds wound tight at first here, like a stretched rubber band, before it flies free with a headlong freedom.

A superb jazz musician, no matter what the ensemble configuration, Sung seems to shine brightest and swing most mightily in the trio format, as she does on (re)Conception.

Track Listing: (re)Conception; I Believe in You; Far From Home; Duplicity; C Jam Blues; Wives and Lovers; Crazy, He Calls Me; Teo; Everything But You.

Personnel: Helen Sung: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums

Title: (re)Conception | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: SteepleChase Records


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read The Questions CD/LP/Track Review
The Questions
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Meerkat Parade CD/LP/Track Review
Meerkat Parade
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 20, 2018
Read The Poetry of Jazz CD/LP/Track Review
The Poetry of Jazz
by Mark Corroto
Published: March 20, 2018
Read The Unknowable CD/LP/Track Review
The Unknowable
by Glenn Astarita
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Like A Radio CD/LP/Track Review
Like A Radio
by Doug Collette
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Live In Healdsburg CD/LP/Track Review
Live In Healdsburg
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: March 19, 2018
Read "Contrast" CD/LP/Track Review Contrast
by Paul Rauch
Published: March 7, 2018
Read "Mal Sirine" CD/LP/Track Review Mal Sirine
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 16, 2017
Read "All Through the Night" CD/LP/Track Review All Through the Night
by Nicholas F. Mondello
Published: June 17, 2017
Read "The Voice of Robert Desnos" CD/LP/Track Review The Voice of Robert Desnos
by Geannine Reid
Published: April 22, 2017
Read "Chimeric Stoned Horn" CD/LP/Track Review Chimeric Stoned Horn
by Karl Ackermann
Published: September 3, 2017
Read "The Great Nostalgist" CD/LP/Track Review The Great Nostalgist
by Jerome Wilson
Published: March 10, 2018