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Helen Sung: Sungbird (After Albeniz)

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist/composer Helen Sung could have played it safe. After offering up two fine straight ahead jazz outings— Push (Blue Moon, 2004) and Helenistique, (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006), the expectation was "more of the same." And that would not have been a disappointment. Though the New York based artist came to jazz late—during her college years, after early studies in classical music—she came out swinging sweet and lovely on those first two discs.

With Sungbird (After Albeniz), the artist takes off on a different tangent, returning, to an extent, to her classical roots. Sung performs Spanish pianist/composer Isaac Albeniz' six piece work for solo piano, Espana, along with her own loose interpretations of the work in six original compositions employing a sax and rhythm section jazz quartet and added percussionist.

Sung describes Espana as: "...beautifully-written pieces that were distinctive, simple yet profound, concise and with room for adaptation." They are all of that; and so are her compositions. Her six pieces tint the jazz sound with a classical hue. The title tune has a light, airy swing—Marcus Strickland, on soprano sax, is awesome here, with a sweet, delicate strength to his tone—and "Capricho American," following Albeniz' "Capricho Catalan," is arranged with a string quartet steeped-in-the-blues feeling—check out Reuben Roger's bass moving back and forth from bowed to plucked, with Strickland's tenor sax floating over the top.

"Shall We Tango" has a gentle momentum, a light bounce in its step, with Sung splashing gorgeously in front of drummer Nasheet Waits' soft, insistent rumble, while "Free Fusion" begins with Sung soloing in an abstract mode before the quartet joins her and finds a groove.

The Albeniz/Sung, classical/jazz tunes are interwoven, highlighting the differences and similarities of the sounds. Sung says: "Jazz certainly uses elements of classical music, but it definitely is its own thang," (she's from Houston). And then she goes and marries the two forms into a beautiful union.

Track Listing: Prelude; Tango; Preamble; Shall We Tango?; Malaguena Miniatura; Malaguena; Serenata; Sungbird; Caprico Catalan; Capricho American; Free Fusion; Encore: Zortzico.

Personnel: Helen Sung: piano; Marcus Strickland: tenor and soprano saxophones; Reuben Rogers: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums; Samuel Torres: percussion.

Title: Sungbird (After Albeniz) | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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