Seung-Hee: Sketches On the Sky

Growing up in Seoul, Seung-Hee’s only exposure to anything approaching jazz singing happened around Christmastime, when her parents would play seasonal albums by Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Moving Stateside, she more than made up for the gaps in her jazz knowledge, earning degrees from Berklee and New England Conservatory and performing alongside the likes of Ran Blake, Lionel Loueke and Dominique Eade. Her deep appreciation for jazz harmony and her compositional skills were ably exhibited five years ago on her debut album, Waiting, but reach full flower throughout the boldly variegated Sketches on the Sky.

She opens with the wordless “Sketch, Part 1,” a swooping exercise that showcases the purity of a voice as haunting as it is arresting. The wordless adventure turns darker, almost threatening, on “Winter and Then,” before returning to its unbridled whirls through the nine-minute “Sketch, Part II.”

Seung-Hee’s lyrical explorations prove even more imaginative. Fitting Korean lyrics to Charlie Haden’s “Bohm So Ri,” she shapes a slow-melting, softly budding answer to “Winter and Then” and, writing in English, beautifully pairs Bill Evans’ “An Elliptical Note” with gently undulating free verse. For covers, she opts for lesser-known selections from Stevie Wonder and Sting, demonstrating impressive soulfulness on Wonder’s “Visions” and ably probing the wide horizons of Sting’s “Valparaiso.” Most unexpected is her deftness in Portuguese, echoing Elis Regina on Edu Lobo’s mournful “Pra Dizer Adeus.”