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Connie Han: Iron Starlet (Mack Avenue)

A review of the pianist's third album

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Connie Han: Iron Starlet
The cover of Iron Starlet by Connie Han

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and sax man Walter Smith III wander in and out of this set, anchored by the leader’s piano and Rhodes, Ivan Taylor’s bass, and drummer/producer Bill Wysaske, who discovered Han when she was 14 at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Drummer and pianist have worked together ever since then, although Wysaske, much to his credit, doesn’t try to horn in on or thump over the others—though he does contribute the original tunes that Han doesn’t. Indeed, the overall theme of this record (Han’s third, and second on Mack Avenue) reads as respect. Nobody stomps, nobody shouts, and nobody gets in anybody else’s way. The acolyte manifests respect to the master second by second, and the master gives a short, but not curt, nod: Stoke the groove and solve problems.

Han’s got the discipline to edit herself too: The second track, Wysaske’s “Nova,” doesn’t explode like a supernova but burns low like a star making a dignified exit. On the Rhodes, she dials her left hand down to a pilot light, accentuating the plaintive pinging from her right fingers. Smith and Pelt, when they turn up, spend a pleasing percentage of their time riffing off each other: one throwing out a figure, the other sailing deftly through the spaces left by the first. I’m reminded of Eric Dolphy’s exchanges with, say, Freddie Hubbard, but with more breathing room between standpoints, and wider intervals between notes. Relax, everybody seems to say. Relax, but focus. Stay with the beat, stay disciplined, and we’ll make it all the way home.

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