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Helen Sung : Sungbird (after Albéniz)

For the pianist’s third CD (not counting Live at the Blue Note, only available online), Helen Sung has chosen to go in a completely new direction. While last year’s excellent trio release, Helenistique, focused on standards and jazz classics, with Sungbird (after Albéniz) she returns to her musical roots. Classically trained, Sung didn’t pick up on jazz until college, and then went on to become a semi-finalist in the 1999 Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition. In 2006 she took the band on this CD-saxman Marcus Strickland, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Nasheet Waits (but not percussionist Samuel Torres)-on a tour of Spain and Andorra. She decided to arrange for the group a classical work by a Spanish composer, and chose “España, Op.165,” a suite of six pieces for solo piano, written in 1890 by Isaac Albéniz.

Sung movingly performs the six short pieces solo on this recording, with little embellishment, the music an engaging combination of standard classical forms and Spanish folk idioms such as flamenco, tango, malaguena and zortzico. They served as inspiration for her own compositions that fill out the CD (albeit still only a disappointing 42:37 in length). Sung and Strickland (on tenor and soprano) both deliver crisply articulated and soundly constructed solos on the pianist’s lilting “Shall We Tango,” the tango/waltz tempoed “Sungbird,” and the intense “Free Fusion,” the latter remindful in its exuberant spirit of Michel Camilo. Rogers solos authoritatively on his features, “Malaguena Miniatura” and “Capricho American.” Waits provides tasteful and assured rhythm support on all these tunes. This successful project will appeal to both jazz and classical listeners.

Originally Published