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Jo-Yu Chen: Stranger

Dan McClenaghan By

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Jo-Yu Chen: Stranger
The short version of pianist Jo-Yu Chen's biography: Born in Taiwan, started with music in the classical realm, moved to New York to study oboe and piano at Julliard School, and fell under the spell of jazz. That's not an unusual back story in the world of jazz, with the exception of her Taiwanese roots. The pianist self-produced two CDs, Obsession (Sony Music Taiwan, 2010) and My Incomplete Soul (Sony Music, 2011), and now—as the first Taiwanese jazz artist signed to a major label, Okeh/Sony—Chen has crafted what should be her her breakout release, Stranger.

With the exception of the traditional Chinese "Happy New Year," it's an all-original album, and Chen has taken her tune-smithing skills to a new level, beginning with "Mon Cher," a wistful rumination—maybe there was loss involved in the creative inspiration. "Wolfman" has a dark/light dynamic, and showcases Chen's distinctive and exceptional trio-mates, bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer Tommy Crane.

Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel sits in on three tunes, and his simpatico with Chen and the trio rises to the level of magic. "Castle" begins with the mode of an insistent, dirge-like groove/military march. Chen's piano spikes an interlude of sharp notes, then the guitar sings into a solo, sounding not like a guitar at all initially, sounding more like some kind of inspired horn, a celestial reed/brass hybrid, otherworldly and searing.

Chen says the disc's title tune refers to two types of strangers: former strangers who have come into her life, and people who were in her life and no longer are. She also certainly finds herself at times in the "stranger" status as an Taiwanese jazz musician in New York City. The tune is thoughtful and deliberate, hauntingly beautiful, with Chen displaying a supple touch beneath an assurance and strength in her solo that, like many of her compositions, speaks to unwaving determination.

In a part of Chen's soul—incomplete or not—resides a rocker. On My Incomplete Soul it showed itself on "Follow Me." On Stranger, it's "The Pirate," with Rosenwinkel's scorching guitar, Tordini's seething bass lines and Crane's snapping drum bustle, the trio plus one rocks with an invigorated energy.

Jo-Yu Chen, with her inspired pianism and her originality—as a tune-smith and an instrumentalist—is poised to rise above the dozens of very talented young players into the ranks of the elite group of piano trio artists.

Track Listing

Mon Cher; Wolfman; Castle; Fragments; Stranger; The Pirate; Interlude; Song for Ryder; Happy New Year; Art of Darkness; Foliage at Night.

Personnel

Jo-Yu Chen: piano; Christopher Tordini: bass; Tommy Crane: drums; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar (3, 6, 10)

Album information

Title: Stranger | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Okeh

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