Helen Sung – (re)Conception, (2011) Steeplechase Records
Review by Ken Dryden for All Music Guide
Helen Sung has made great strides since winning the 2007 Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition. Recruiting two of the most in-demand rhythm players for this trio date, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, the pianist mixes things up with fresh arrangements of standards, time-tested jazz compositions, and a few less frequently played works. Her swinging take of Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” begins with a playful exchange with Washington before launching into the familiar theme, with the walking bass and light percussion propelling her inventive improvising as she avoids the clichéd route through this jazz standard. She also offers a snappy midtempo setting of the maestro’s “Everything But You,” playfully incorporating “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” before she turns on the afterburners in her superb solo. Her punchy take of George Shearing’s “(Re)Conception” reveals the potential of this neglected bop gem. Thelonious Monk’s “Teo” is another overlooked piece, though Sung transforms it into a rapid-fire Bud Powell-flavored romp. Jerry Bock’s “Far from the Home I Love” (from the musical Fiddler on the Roof) is not typically heard much on jazz record dates, but Sung delivers a sentimental yet shimmering interpretation. Her bright rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “Wives and Lovers” puts the spotlight on the talented Washington for an extensive solo. Sung also contributed one original, the lively, constantly shifting “Duplicity.” Helen Sung is clearly one artist to watch among the musicians of her generation.