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Yoojin Park debuts with "West End"

A new Jazz violinist appears like a beacon

A debut album is always something intriguing and hopeful but rarely does such an album reward that hope with such fulfilment as Yoojin Park’s album “West End.” This is an album that creates even greater hope for what may be to come.

Born in Seoul, Korea, Park began music lessons at the age of three and took on the violin at the age of four. Her mother was a classically-trained pianist and, with Yoojin’s father, created an atmosphere of music love and appreciation. She studied Classical Violin Performance in Korea, graduating in 2006. In 2008, she completed her studies in Jazz Violin Performance at Boston’s Berklee School of Music. All of this trained and tempered Yoojin Park into a Jazz professional prepared for anything.

Park has gathered an impressive line-up for “West End.” Victor Gould is on piano, Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Montez Coleman on drums and Godwin Louis sits in on alto sax on tracks 1, 2, 4 and 8. The track list itself is a well-rounded collection of Park’s own compositions alongside standards from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Segal/Fisher piece as well as a cool cover of Freddie Hubbard.

The album opens with the 6/8 straight-up Jazz piece “Dancing Blossoms.” Piano, bass and drums kick off the Park composition very nicely before Park herself joins in. Certainly classically trained, Park also demonstrates—from the very beginning—that she has more than mastered her Jazz chops.

Plaxico and Coleman are clearly skilled and they have the awards, the appearances and the experience to prove it. Victor Gould is the youngest of the group but he shows from the outset that he is comfortable in this position and more than ready for the demands. He has previously played with Godwin Louis with whom he performs on this album.

All of these fine musicians—including the brilliant work from Louis—create the ideal platform for Park and her compositions and arrangements. It all begins beautifully with “Dancing Blossoms” which is a wonderful introduction to the rest of the album which doesn’t falter at any point right up to the conclusion.

From Park’s own dynamic composition, the following track moves to a Jascha Heifetz-transcribed Gershwin piece from “Porgy and Bess.” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is performed with the sweet swing established by Park and Gould and taken over by Louis, Plaxico and Coleman.

The interplay between Park and Louis is good stuff. Park offers a genuinely soulful approach to the Jazz standard and she works it magnificently. With all the precision of her classical training at her disposal, Park can still interject raw and plaintive imagery into her version of the classic.

“West End” is an original composition from Yoojin Park herself. The piece is an exquisite display of her soulful side. The deep emotions coming forth from her violin are echoed wonderfully by Gould’s piano work. Plaxico and Coleman finely complete the sound and structure.

“West End” could very well become Park’s signature piece. It is a remarkable showcase of her talents in performance and writing. “West End” could be to Park what “Epistrophy” was to Thelonious Monk’s repertoire.

She follows up the soul with a blues work which she also wrote. “12/8 Blues” is an exploration of an almost anthemic Blues approach. Louis’ alto sax is right on target and Gould adds a Gospel taste that serves to lighten the Blues.

Enter Plaxico’s bass solo, with his own Gospel-Blues taste, and the boundaries just explode. Coleman is behind it all in extraordinary form and carries the conclusion in what can only be described as a Gospel triumph.

Park then takes on another Heifetz transcription of a Gershwin number. “Summertime” is one of the most covered Jazz standards of all time but Park puts her definitive stamp on the standard in stunning ways. With Gould’s delicate touch and the swing of Plaxico and Coleman, “Summertime” still has the ability to make even the most hardened Jazz fan sit up and give a good hearing.

“When Sunny Gets Blue” is a gorgeous Segal/Fisher piece that bends to Park’s bow with grace and subtlety. Gould’s touch is once again in sweet harmony with the violin as the rhythm section scores heavily with understated support. In unison, they create a touching track of depth and desire. Park is especially impressive in her delightful delicacy and richness. The music ascends as Park solos with a nod and a wink to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”

“Yamaha Groove” is another Park original. This work shows a bit of the funkiness of Park and Plaxico comfortably fits into that style as Coleman maintains the Jazz rhythm. The groove is carried well by everyone, creating another unison piece that has Park free to ride the waves of that groove. This is an enjoyable and fun track. The flow of the entire group is flawless and seemingly effortless in this joint musical venture.

Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” is conscientiously adapted by Park. The mellow alto sax is an almost haunting backdrop until Louis steps up to solo in lively and invigorating passages.

Hubbard’s warm tonality is well-translated by Park’s violin. The piece loses nothing under Park’s respectful touch. So well done.
The album closes with “Banpo Streets.” It speaks of a neighborhood in north Seoul which borders the Han River. There is a French district here with restaurants and cafes.

Written by Park, the song is a lovely ballad which evokes images of calm and relaxation. The andante tempo is conducive to the feel of a stroll along quiet streets. It is a fine and fitting end to an excellent album full of excitement and emotion.

In a decade of advancing Jazz violinists—like Tomoko Omura and Meg Okura—Yoojin Park establishes herself as part of that distinguished company.

Yoojin Park has truly gathered to herself an extraordinary corps of musicians of high caliber talents and experience. They precisely carry out her vision and sound. They are so well-placed together that they allow Park herself to be herself in all her honesty and depth.

“West End” is not only a debut, it is a herald that someone wonderful has arrived in the Jazz world.

Visit her web site at: yoojinpark.com

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Travis Rogers