Helen Sung – PUSH, (2003) Fresh Sound New Talent
DAN MCCLENAGHAN for All About Jazz
It’s always a good sign when the opening cut has you snapping your fingers about fifteen seconds in.
Push is pianist Helen Sung’s debut effort. The song that elicited the fingersnaps is “Conundrum,” a swinger that features some clean-lined tenor sax work by Marcus Strickland. It hits a groove early, and a couple of minutes in Sung sparkles into an effervescent solo. The pianist—who semi-finaled in the 1999 Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition—exhibits some sharp angularities again when the sax blows back in.
“Vivacity” is the word that keeps coming to mind as I listen to Ms. Sung’s music. Her approach brims with life, solid compositions and fine playing. “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” sans sax—with percussionist Jeffrey Haynes joining the pianist,along with drummer Brian Blade and bassist Richie Goods—bubbles and jumps. Helen Sung is—it’s obvious—having a helluva good time as her imagination soars.
The disc’s title tune features a marvelously imaginative Sung solo and some of Strickland’s finest blowing on the set. Sung has a way of keeping the listener on her/his toes as the rhythm guys settle into a groove behind her while she takes the melody on some surprising twists and turns.
The set is a nicely arranged mix of trio/quartet, up-tempo/ballad offerings, and Marcus Strickland switches from tenor to soprano to keep the sound interesting. The song “Bittersweet” sounds just like its title, with the soprano and piano playing the opposing emotions. “The Waiting Game” sounds Monk-ish, and the record closes on a perfect note with Thelonious’s “Ugly Beauty,” a pensive little solo gem in the hands of Helen Sung.
Visit Helen Sung on the web at www.helensung.com
Personnel: Helen Sung—piano; Marcus Strickland—tenor and soprano saxophones; Richie Goods—bass; Brian Blade—drums; Jeffrey Haynes—percussion