Connect with us

Brian's Corner

Bheki Mseleku Timelessness / January 1, 2019 What’s Old is New

On this first day of 2019 I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I hope this year brings you more joy than pain, and more victories than defeats. And thank everyone who decided to take a few minutes of their time and drop by the Corner.

Initially, I thought I might review a new (late 2018) album, seeing there is probably not a release in 2019 yet (watch 20 new CDs drop just as this is published). But as I was listening to some of the music I had uploaded to my old school iPod Classic, I kept coming back to this beautiful 1995 Bheki Mseleku CD release, recorded on the Verve label, appropriately titled Timelessness, and I thought that this is the perfect title of an album to do for the first review of the year. Music is a reflection of time, and time is just as integral to music as the notes and the spaces between the notes are, so it makes sense to check out an older CD that sounds as though it could have been recorded last week, and that is why I chose this album.

I have just recently discovered Bheki (and please, no comments saying things like “I can’t believe you just heard of the guy”). There are so many excellent artists out there, and I try to find players that I am not familiar with and who make good music. I figure if I like them, then there are many other people out there who would like then too. I heard one cut off of this Timelessness CD on the radio, (shout out to SiriusXM Real Jazz, and WZUM Pittsburgh), and I had to buy the thing and check out the rest of it; and I am so glad I did.

Bheki was born in South Africa and he played Piano, Sax, Guitar, and he composed and arranged music just as well. He died in 2008, 14 years after he recorded this amazing album. He was only 53 years old upon his death, but he left a legacy of music behind him that still has a broad influence in Africa, Europe, the UK and the U.S. It is evident that his influence is as timeless as this beautiful album is. His playing style is complex and thoughtful, extremely artistic, powerful and fresh. He sounds like he recorded this album yesterday, and not twentyfive years ago. And, when you check out the lineup on this CD, you see that he was well respected by the giants of the America jazz scene too. Talent respects talent. The album lineup reads as follows: Michael Bowie/bass; Marvin “Smitty” Smith drums; the great Abbey Lincoln/vocals on track 5; Kent Jordan/flute on track 4 & 8; Pharoah Sanders/tenor sax on track 6; Joe Henderson/tenor sax track 1; Rodney Kendrick/piano track 7; and none other than Elvin Jones /drums on track 9. With this level of talent, you dare not go wrong (because you can’t), and Bheki hit the mark dead center on this CD.

The first song on the CD is the title track Timelessness. This song features the quartet of Bheki, Henderson, Bowie and Smitty. It’s a straight-ahead cut that jams. Bheki’s piano play is forceful and true, and he leads this quartet in yeoman’s fashion. He exhibits a style that I can describe as dependable and timely and on this cut he puts in a full day’s work. His leadership is clear and true as he not only leads the bandmates here, but he composed and arranged every song on the LP including this one.

On this cut, the outstanding thing you’ll notice is the drum play of Smitty. Marvin “Smitty” Smith is an amazing inspired drummer. He keeps the beat impeccably, but his play is also laced with sophistication and awe-inspiring syncopation. He can easily be placed in the upper echelon of drummers not only in the field but within the broad history of jazz music itself, and, I feel that statement is not one bit of hyperbole. In fact, Bheki dedicates this song to Smitty; that’s the respect he had for this man’s ability, and that respect is well deserved. Smitty’s play undergirds the entire quartet and allows Bheki and Joe Henderson the freedom fly all over the place. The two feed off the drummer into heights of pure improvisational magic. They can do this because their flight is well grounded within the confines of a stellar rhythm section of this supremely tight band. As you listen to Bheki and Joe pontificate upon the theme you can feel them being egged on the smoking hot drum track that Smitty lays down. No drum machine yet designed can do what Smitty does here. This cut is a nine-minute tenor sax/piano symposium played by champions on an album of champions. And this first cut whets your appetite for what lies ahead.

The second cut on the fabulous CD is titled Yukani (Wake Up). On this cut Bheki plays not only the piano, but the tenor and soprano saxes as well. During his day, he often performed playing the piano and sax at the same time. I am not sure if that was the case on this cut, but what I am sure of is that this song is beautiful and inspiring. Here, Bheki reminds me of another of my favorite piano players, McCoy Tyner, and in fact, there is a tribute LP to both of these great two greats performed by an English jazz band named Hexagonal (you can bet I’m doing a review in the near future). Here Bheki uses the expansive chording technique that give Tyner’s music such an epic piano sound, and that’s exactly the effect that Bheki has here. It’s that style of play that seems to take the listeners beyond the here and now and transports them to parts unknown. This song is a journey, and the trip is exotic and awesome. We are transported to Apartheid South Africa, where we not only share in the struggle of the black people of the land, but we also share in the beauty of the natural surroundings. Micheal Bowie’s bass is magical and alive. It seems to transform itself into an instrument from an unknown culture and time; it transports us via feel and emotion in breathless anticipation of what comes next. This album is indeed magical, and one wonders why Bheki didn’t get his due here in the U.S. before he died.

I could write about every cut on this LP, but I don’t want to fatigue the reader, so I’ll jump to cut four C-Ton (Planet Earth). C-Ton begins in a waltz like fashion as the 6/8-time signature whirls around romantically. Kent Jordan’s flute solo is superb on this track. His playing is fresh, articulate and imaginative. He lends to the song a certain air of magic that sweeps the listener away. The effect is on the brink of being other worldly in sound and texture. The quartet of Jordan, Mseleku, Bowie, and Smitty create an interplay that is on par with any quartet in jazz history (I dare say), and the music is a masterpiece. Bheki’s piano solo gives us an insight into his improvisational mind as he scats and sings the notes that his right hand is commanding out of the keys. The sound is almost larger than the quartet, but at the same time it maintains that intimacy that quartets bring to the audience. All the while, Smitty and Bowie not only ground the two front men but lay down that groundwork with virtuosity. They are not just a rhythm section merely holding down the tempo, they add depth and musicality to their essential part in this 10 minute, 29 second epic work of art. It still amazes me that Bheki did not receive greater recognition in America before he died. He obviously was known and appreciated by his jazz musician contemporaries, but his name was not widely known to the general public State side. As so frequently happens, genius is usually not widely recognized until after the artist has passed.

Cut five is the only English speaking vocal number on the LP; its titled Through The Years. This ballad features the inimitable Abby Lincoln doing the vocals. In fact, Abby wrote the lyrics for this song. She is accompanied by a quartet of tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums. Smitty, and Bowie play drum and bass respectively, but the piano and sax are both played by none other than Bheki himself. Here we get a taste of what this multi-talented music master can do on the sax, and as you can hear, he knew a thing or several about the instrument. His playing is warm and full, and he’s not lacking in style or timbre. The voice of his tenor is distinct and full, and was not a novelty at all, but was an essential component of the fullness of the tune. And, once again, if you listen carefully, during the piano solo you can hear Bheki singing the notes that his right hand is playing. I don’t know if he even realized that he was doing it, but it seems as though he was completely wrapped up in his music. Unfortunately, I am not certain whether the track is overdubbed or Bheki is actually playing the sax and piano simultaneously when they are heard together, but whatever the case may be, the two instruments complement one another is expert fashion, and the overall effect makes this song just as haunting as Abby’s lyrics describe. This song rounds out a beautiful album and showcases Abby and Bheki’s command of their respective crafts.

The sixth song on this wonderful album is titled Yanini. This is a happy song, even joyous, and although its in a laid-back jazz style, the joy cannot be hidden or ignored. The song features the great Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, and on this cut near the end, Bheki actually sings out load into the microphone! I don’t actually know what he says, but I do know that he is singing, and he sounds good too. This song has a calypso feel to it; it sounds like the islands; it dips and swings as it plays along in its groove-ful playful style. Pharoah is at his best; his playing marvelously clear and sweet in tone and texture. The song dances along, and it makes the listener want to dance along with it. The song is 11 minuets and 8 seconds long, and it seems to sweep by like a graceful parade. Its never dull or heavy, and the tempo and feel keep your feet tapping. Near the end as the tenor sax and the drums take the listener to the end, Pharoah is at his best. He plays grace notes to Bheki’s singing and the echo effect on his sax lends an organic sound of the island to the graceful dance. Genius in concept and performance, and some of the best music from the era.

Well, as you can probably tell, I could go on talking about this fantastic offering that Mseleku left us, but I’m nearing the limit of what I’m comfortable writing in one article. I could do more about the album in another article, but instead I’ll encourage you to do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing on your own. I’m sure you, just like me, will be searching for more of Bheki Mseleku’s albums.

I have come to the end of another fun (for me, at least), article, and what’s more, I’ve come to the end of a year of writing (my first full year; we started mid 2017), and the beginning of a new year. I’m sure I’ve enjoyed this way more than you readers might, but I hope you got something out of it too, and I’d like to thank all of you for the time you spent here out of your busy day.

The entire staff of N-Motion Entertainment would like to thank everyone for their patience during the transition period from our old format into this new one. We apologize for the obvious growing pains you endured with us. We are doing and hope to continue doing a lot of exciting things with our platform. We continue to strive to bring you premium entertainment on stage, and on this magazine website. Please feel free to write your feedback in the places provided. Now that we have our new home, it will be much easier for us to reply to your quires and comments. And if you have anyone in mind that you would like us to bring to our fair city (or that you want me to hear and write about), feel free to let us know (no promise, but we will consider all suggestions).

I’d like to personally thank any and all readers of this article. I had a lot of fun doing it, and as strive to continue this endeavor, just know that I write with the reader in mind, and I write about the music I love; Jazz, Smooth Jazz, R & B, and even a little Hip Hop too, so….I’m open to suggestions (of the musical nature).

Let me also say I do not own the rights to any of the music, videos or photos used in this article, but I lean solely upon the Fair Use statute in the law for permission.

Thanks again for stopping by. Please tell your family and friends about the article, and remember,
Next time, “Catch you on The Corner”.

B. B. Suber

I’ve been a jazz lover for quite some time now; nearly as long as I can remember. I’ve always liked jazz in one form or another, and I grew to love it as my palate for music matured throughout the years. One of my earliest memories as a child was my then favorite song; “A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I heard it on the radio, and I was hooked. I was born in Pittsburgh in 1958, and reared in the Hill District, and back then, WAMO was only an A.M. station (they actually did a remote broadcast from a little store on Webster around the corner from my house), and while Motown was the rave, Stax records, and Soul music was the background music for life in the ghetto (and I lived in the “ghetto”; the Hill District), jazz was a constant undercurrent, a heartbeat of the vibrant life of the slums in which I lived. Until next time.... “Catch You on The Corner”!

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

14 + 18 =

Brian's Corner

Majestic Music of The Soulful Symphony / Darin Atwater / April 12, 2019 / The Souls of Black Folk!

Conductor / Musician Darin Atwater

On March 30, 2019 in the large, well-appointed Murphy Fine Arts Center of the Morgan State University Campus in Baltimore Maryland, Darin Atwater and his Soulful Symphony delivered their angelic music to a sold-out auditorium and its captivated audience; an audience who had waited for nearly four years to see the resurgent Symphony perform again in the Baltimore area. I was in attendance with a good friend of mine (who had initially introduced me to this predominately African American Orchestra), and we had eagerly awaited (along with nearly everyone else I’m sure), for their return. Our wait was now over, and the performance we shared far outshined the memory of just how great not only the orchestra is, but also how great of a conductor, artist, and arranger Darin is, and how great of an influence he is to the Baltimore Maryland area specifically, but also the greater landscape of African American Music in general.

The Concert was entitled “The Souls of Black Folk”; it was named after the book written by W. E. B. DuBois, and the concert was sponsored by the New Shiloh Baptist Church with part of the proceeds going to help pay for renovations to their church home sanctuary. Darin also elaborated via Facebook post (as well as during the concert), upon the Soulful Symphony being named the resident orchestra for Baltimore’s Merriweather Post Pavilion during its summer concert season. The Post Pavilion is a beautiful roofed outdoor concert area that seats approximately 16,000 people. So, if you’re up for great orchestral music you can catch the orchestra there throughout this upcoming summer.

There are a few visible things that you will notice about Soulful Symphony when you see them in concert. The first thing you will notice is that Soulful Symphony has a Choir; in fact, the choir consists of twenty-six voices. There are eight sopranos, and eight altos; six tenors, and four bass voices. This gives SS a huge vocal presence, and the quality of the voices of the singers is jaw dropping (more on that later). Another thing you’ll visibly notice is the number of strings in this ensemble. There are thirty-two total string players. Of that total, there are ten first violins; eight second violins; six violas; 5 cellos, and 3 double bass viols. This number of stings gives the orchestra a lush string presence, which add a very high level of emotional nuance to the music. The sound is utterly remarkable and breathe-taking at times. And, because there are so many strings in relationship to the entire size of the orchestra, the strings are never drowned out by the horn section or the rest of the orchestra and singers. There is always a sonic balance that is pleasurable to the ear; the stage swells with the sound of strings, and the music projects an awe-inspiring emotive aura for the listener.

If you’ve never seen Darin, let me tell you that in height, stature, age range and appearance he might remind you of another famous black conductor Kirk Franklin. I’m sure they’re aware of one another, (and in this particular concert Darin performs one of Kirk’s songs), and they are both from the Pentecostal branch of the African American Church, so there are a lot of similarities between the two men, and their talent level is also on par with one another. Personally, I’m expecting some type of collaboration of the two in the near future. We’ll see; but back to the subject at hand.

Dr. and Mrs. Harold A. Carter Jr

The concert was presided by Dr. Harold A. Carter, JR., Pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church. Accompanied by his wife, he gave a short speech, with was followed by a speech by Capital Campaign Chairpersons Dr. Robert and Mrs. Wanda Draper in which they also introduced all the members of the Capital Campaign Steering Committee members. And then the concert began.

As the audience became silent, First Chair violinist, the lovely and talented, Ms. Jessica R. Mc Junkins entered from stage right to a round of applause, she elegantly curtsied and led the orchestra in its’ “Concert A” tune up, after which the Conductor Atwater entered to further applause. After a brief interaction with the crowd, the concert began with the song Listen Lord A Prayer, a song that Darin wrote which is based on a poem written by James Weldon Johnson, which was followed by three songs written by Darrin; The Crucifixion, and Judgement Day, and the song Hem, Him, Hymn. All were well done, and very lovely, but the next song was sung by lead Alto Mia Coleman; the old classic hymn Amazing Grace (attached is the Soweto Gospel Choir Version of that hymn). This song was so remarkably sung that it defies explanation. Mia’s range is at least four octaves, if not five. She began her solo at an astounding baritone range, and gradually entered the soprano register. She amazed everyone listening, but, I suppose, the orchestra who listens to this remarkable woman sing regularly. She not only has an astounding range at her control, but she also draws from a deep emotional reservoir as well. She poured her soul into her solo, and you can feel the assuredness and certainty of what she is singing; the listener lives the song with the singer; there’s a oneness the is felt individually with everyone present. This solo was a highlight of many highlights from the evening.

The next female soloist (sorry, I don’t have her name), came to the front microphone and did a rendition of the 23rd Psalm. The interesting aspect of this, one of the most famous Psalms in Scripture, is that the version was written by none other than Duke Ellington! The arrangement for orchestra was, of course, done by Darrin, and the effect of the two was awesomely beautiful. Up to this point in time, this concert is not available on Vinyl, CD, or video, so unfortunately, I cannot link Soulful Symphony’s version, but I’ll link the original version sung by none other than the inimitable

Mahalia Jackson.

This version is just as beautiful in its own right and will give you an inkling of the performance we were treated with that night.

This Psalm was followed by a beautiful song written by Richard Smallwood entitled Total Praise. As you can hear from this rendition by Mr. Smallwood himself, the song lends itself quite readily to the orchestral experience. Richard is also a great conductor and composer of Gospel music, and he uses an orchestra frequently. Darrin is steeped in the church, and he readily equates the experience of black people in America with the Gospel experience of the church and the faith exhibited by our fore-parents in this land which was strange to them. This is a heritage of the black American experience, and the expression thereof is still strong today. It goes part and parcel with the struggles that black people have dealt with in their time in this country. We are visibly different, and that difference spells an alienation that many of us have endured throughout our lives; be it for better of for worse, it cannot be denied, and one place where it can be expressed in our commonality has been in the Churches; in worship, in the preaching and in the music. It’s a reality of our experience within this country that will never be forgotten, and that reality, and the emotion associated with it is captured in our art, worship and music, and this song is demonstrative of all three.

The last song of the first half of the concert is a song written by Judith McAllister entitled To Our God. This song is a rousing anthem of praise. It’s majestic and mighty in its concept and delivery, and it carries away the listener experientially; you experience the worshipful atmosphere through the music and words. The choir rejoices in the words and the worship the words express, and the audience cannot help but feel not only the majesty of the words being sung, but they also experience a minute measure of the majesty of the One to Whom the song is sung. This song is breathtaking in its delivery and feel. There is nothing nuanced about it. It is in your face and gives you a of glimpse of the majesty that awaits all of us when we one day step into the actual throne room of the Lord of Lords, and King of Kings. The song is so climatic that it leaves your soul crying for a break, and it lead the audience into the intermission on an emotional high.

After the brief intermission there were a few words of gratitude and benevolence from the Pastor Dr. Carter and the Campaign Chairpersons again, the then the concert resumed with Darin’s own song “Wednesday Night Devotions” which was followed by another of Darin’s compositions which was at one time sung by Donnie McClurkin, the song is entitled “Purple” The particular version I linked to is beautifully performed by the WPA Children of the Gospel, and it was similarly, and just as beautifully performed that evening at Morgan State. As the evening progressed, the audience was pulled deeper into a worshipful experience as the choir and orchestra majestically performed their concert. The reverence could be felt as well as it could be heard, and the beauty of the theatre was surpassed by the beauty of the music that filled it.

 

Kirk Franklin

After two more numbers, both as equally as awesome as the prior two, Darin took a break and exited stage right, relinquishing his station to one of the tenors (sorry, I don’t remember the young man’s name either), and the choir and orchestra brought the tempo up with one of Darin’s contemporaries Kirk Franklin,s tune Love Theory. The ensemble and the young man in the lead delivered a rousing rendition of the song and also lead the audience in a call and response that was inspiring and deliciously enjoyable to hear. The concert was as much a worshipful experience as it was a listening experience, and that was reiterated throughout the evening. It was a peek into the atmosphere of the Black Pentecostal Church experience in the U. S., and that aspect was felt to an increasing degree as the night progressed.

After that rousing number, Darrin quieted the atmosphere with the traditional version of the hymn Holy Holy Holy  (Alabama A & M Gospel Choir version). The number was beautifully done and was grand in its delivery. The symphony and Choir were awe inspiring. They delivered three more numbers, one of them being You Made A Way featuring Travis Greene, leaving the audience completely satisfied and emotionally drained, but they weren’t finished, at least not just yet. They put the cap on this amazing evening with the song There Is No Way which was written by Rev. Milton Brunson in the early 1980s. This song completed a great evening to the total satisfaction of the capacity crowd. If you’ve never experienced the Soulful Symphony, I would encourage all of you to check them out at the Post Pavilion this summer. The drive there is not that far at all, and hotel accommodations are moderately priced, and you can take some time and check out the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore while you’re down there too. It’s a good time and a great place in which to soak up the atmosphere of the city’s beautifully refurbished tourist area. For ticket information please check out Darin Atwater on Facebook.

Well, that’s it for this installment of B.C. I’d like to thank any and all of you who took the time to come and check in on what we do here. In the coming months we plan on having many more album and concert reviews for your enjoyment. Please feel free to leave comments in the section provided. We’ll try to respond as time allows. I do work a regular job, and I run a few businesses as well, so my time is limited.

Let me do my due diligence here and state for the record the “I do not own the rights to any video or music used in the production of this article. The items used are for illustrative purposes and the enjoyment of the reader only, and I appeal to the “Fair Use” clause within the law to do so.”

Now that that’s out of the way, remember to hit me up with any items or music you’d like me to review or check out. Also, remember to check out my articles in SoulPitt magazine, and I’m also writing a couple of books on other topics that I love. I’ll make sure and keep you updated about those as they mature.
Thanks you all again, and remember; Next time “Catch you on The Corner”.

B. B. Suber

Continue Reading

Brian's Corner

Helen Sung/ Sung with Words : March 25, 2019 Exceptionally Sung!

The 2018 offering “Sung with Words “, is the soul-child of five-star pianist Helen Sung. This album begins in a quite different mode than most jazz albums; that’s because of the presence of the spoken word in many places throughout this disc.  The spoken intro of the first track features the pedestrian voice of Poet Dana Gioia. He collaborated to write the lyrics for many of the songs on this album and even reads some of the lyrics between a few of the numbers, and before this first tune he reads one of the poems he wrote for this CD. The poem is entitled “Meet me at the lighthouse”. With it, Dana effectively sets the mood for the entire CD. He speaks in a plain, uncool fashion; nothing in his timbre denotes a sense of the streetwise or city savvy that most would have at one time associated with jazz music. Instead the voice reminds you of the voice of a classroom professor as he reads an assignment from one of his students; but as soon as the drum beat of the first number begins you know you’ve come to the right place. The music takes you right where you want to be; on the corner of cool, hip, and worldly; smack-dab in the center of inner-city jazz on straight ahead avenue.

There are over fifty minutes of music on this CD, and with the  accompaniment of the spoken word, this album will entertain and surprise the listener for nearly an hour. That is no small feat because every track on this CD is quality; there are no fillers or throw offs tracks, but only stellar number after stellar number. This is a very impressive offering to say the least, and Helen’s playing is thoughtful, measured, sure and artistic. She doesn’t miss a beat or flub a nuanced note. She is a world class seasoned jazz pianist.

Drummer Kendrick Scott

All-star drummer Kendrick Scott begins the first jam with the fade-in of his insistent snare drum and cymbal as Dana recites the finishing lines of his vivid poem; “we are at the bar, The Lighthouse bar”, and the band has begun it session. The feel of the spoken intro is what you’d expect from a poetry reading symposium held in a university lecture hall or at a local library, while the seamless percussion intro adds to the appeal and mystic of the first tune on this album. The mood has been set, and you get the feeling that this is not an ordinary set of numbers on a disc, but instead, it’s a living breathing creation that must be experienced as the sum of its parts in order to be fully appreciated.

The drums slow crescendo intro leads us into the heart of the first number Convergence! This slick number is a straight-ahead masterpiece. It’s a throwback to a time when jazz was king, and the players were the avant-garde of the music and artistic world. This tune, just like much of the music from that time period (or as Dana calls it in the intro poem “that sinister century”), to which this tune beacons to, is a testament to the mind and spirit of a true artist. It speaks from the convergence of intellect, spirit, and the eye of the artist’s mind. The listener/experiencer must rise to the level of the art for the art will not descend to the easy ditty of the masses. Don’t get me wrong, the music is in no way pretentious or cumbersome, but instead it’s thoughtfully large, and allows the musicians room to explore the nuances of the music and their own interpretations thereof. Helen wrote this piece, and while listening to it, one can see that Helen it not only a master jazz player, but she is an appreciative student of the genre (as are all jazz musicians of her caliber), and a fine composer. This track has aspects of Coltrane and Miles, and many of the other musical giants of that era, and if they were around today, that would all love to have a crack at playing this one. John Ellis’ tenor sax leads us into the heart of the beast. His solo is strong, well balanced and sure. He tells his story in a satisfyingly complete manner and leads us into Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet. Her masterful solo has depth and complexity. It tells a complete story in a rich staccato manner and after satisfying us fully eventually lead us into Helen’s deft piano. Helen’s style has aspects of many of the masters who have come before her. She exhibits a knowledge and feel for the sixties reminiscent jazz piano style, and yet she gives it her own unique flare. This woman is for real.  If they can could  hear this track, I’m sure Miles and Trane would be smiling down on this one, and I’m certain Mr. Wayne Shorter would be, and probably is a fan of this one as well.

Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen

The track and the attendant solos are underpinned by the smooth rhythm section of bassist Reuben Rogers, and (as previously stated), drummer Kendrick Scott.  Reuben’s’ expert chops ground the number into a classic cool jazz strut that glides along at an unhurried yet quick pace, and fans of Kendrick know of his ability not only as a band leader in his own right, but as one of the finest young drummers on the jazz scene today. Each solo is supported by Helen’s beautifully intelligent chords phrasing; she is masterful in her ability. But when we finally get to the band leader’s solo, we hear world class jazz piano at its’ finest. Helen is a champ. Her style is strong and firm, and she puts thought and instinct into each measure. It’s like setting a caged cerebral beast free for a romp; there’s no holding her back, and she takes over. Her playing is insistently exuberant while at the same times her phrasing allows the music space to breathe. It’s a delicate balance, and she pulls it off in supreme fashion. If you’ve never heard of Helen Sung, you have now, and she’s claiming her stake at the top of the heap.

Tenor Sax: John Ellis

After that killer first number, we get a chance to catch our breath with the beautiful ballad entitled The Stars On Second Avenue. The tune (just as is the entire album), is written by Helen, and the words  (just as are all the words on this album), are written by Dana. The combination produced a hypnotically romantic wonder of a song. It’s the birth of a classic, and Helen and Dana should be extra proud of this baby. This one will be sung (pun intended), for decades to come. Everything about this song speaks to the heart of the listener. The song is designed to invoke visions of you and your lover sharing time on the neon lit city streets, and it does this in high fashion. There are some things that are common to all of humanity, and a true artist homes in on this reality with a gentle laser like intensity. Great artists have this connection with the audience; be it a painter who’s medium is oil paint and canvas, or a sculptor who’s medium is marble, chisel and hammer, or, as in this case, musician and poet; piano and the written word; the effect is the same; the recipient of the experience is transported to distant experience either real or imagined.

Jean Baylor’s beautiful voice delivers this lovely song in such an emotive and romantic fashion. You can feel the reality of her words as she softly sings them; she has lived this song, and she expresses that to her enthralled audience. Bassist Reuben Rogers’ warm solo divides the song in two,  as he thoughtfully extends the mood and ushers in Helen’s piano voice for a few measures And lest I forget the unforgettable, John Ellis’ sweet tenor sax accompanies each of Jean’s measures with a breathy sexiness that lends itself so well to this song and the aura the song produces. An exceptional tune indeed!

Poet: Dana Gioia

Dana recites the vivid lyrics to the next song Hot Summer night. This cool, light dance-able tune immediately follows and begins with Samuel Torres’ hot conga percussion intro follow by Reuben’s funky bass. Christie Dashiell, and Carolyn Leonhart do the singing on this number; their voices have so much similarity that one can believe it’s an overdub, but it’s actually a cleverly well-done duet. Helen’s piano displays her ability to “woman” multiple genres of music. This lady does not merely play this funky tune, but she knows how to deliver it ease and a hot creativeness. This groove should be played all summer on many every jazz and smooth jazz station around the country. Helen is a top-notch pianist and her composition skills are off the chart. And I must mention the horn arraignment on this one. The horns accentuate the feel and dance groove laid down by the piano, bass and drums. This tune rounds out this LP in a fashion that allows this disc room to breathe. Without it, this CD would probably seem too heavy to listen to very often, but this track (and a second dance track “Mean what you say”), round out this hot album and give it the well-developed appeal that many listeners appreciate. I must apologize for not having an accompanying sample of this song, but Helen needs to be paid for her work, and she intentionally left some of her music off the sample list so she can eat (and who can blame her? She deserves to make a living like everyone else).

I’ll end this article by talking about song 10; Lament for Kalief Browder,  I chose this song because of the contrast it has with the upbeat dance numbers on the disc. Helen not only has a keen sense of who she is as a musician, but she also has a keen sense of who she is conception-ally. Like an exceptional movie director, she  knows what she wishes to get across to the audience. I could have chosen a couple of other tunes on the disc, but I chose the song because of the deep melancholy produced by the artist. Helen initially uses her Fender Rhodes to evoke an aural spaciousness to the intro, and John Ellis’ bass clarinet adds a deep sense of sorrowful foreboding that pulls the listener into the lamentation. Carolyn Leonhart’s haunting voice sings the notes in unison with Helen’s pensive piano; the effect is awe inspiring and surreal. The listener is transported to another world; a world of their imagination. You don’t actually know what the lamenting is all about, but the reality of that sorrow can be felt. Four minutes into the song, Kendrick Scott and Samuel Torres pick up the beat and the lamentation turns up in tempo and feel. The feel is the same, but there’s an urgency that permeates the music for several measures until, once again, the mood reverts back into the sorrowful mysterious dirge. It’s as effective as watching a movie on the big screen; in fact, you feel as though you’ve watched a distressful play unfold before you very eyes. This is when you know you’re in the presence of a master. Helen is just that.

Helen

I could go on. I absolutely love this album, and although I never heard of Helen until I stumbled across this album while searching for new music on one of my favorite sites, I do plan on going to see here when I get the first opportunity. She’s a superb artist and worthy of all accolades. I, personally, believe she should have been considered for a Grammy nomination for this album, and maybe, since this album was released so late in 2018, she’ll get that consideration in 2020. If so, it will be well deserved. And since I did not have a lot of video to share with you, I’ll drop this nugget of Helen playing Four by Four.

And, also, since I did find this link, and it’s on this album, I’d like to introduce you the the song Pity The Beautiful.  It’s only a short bit of the song, but it allows you to understand just how good this album is.

I’d like to thank you all for dropping by again. I have been informed that traffic to “The Corner” is picking up, and I’d like to thank my readers for that as well, and I urge you that if you like what you read, pull some of your friend’s and family’s coats and have them drop by too.
And.. let me state for safety sake that “I do not own the rights to any music or video used within this article and refer to the “fair use” clause within the law to do so”.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to brag just a little bit. I get excited about some of the good music I review on “The Corner”. Some of the stuff I hear is so good that it stops me in my tracks and I just have to write about it. Well that happened to me when I heard a cut off of this woman’s album; I wrote about Tia Fuller’s album Diamond Cut last year. I was blown away when I first heard it, and I thought it was some of the best stuff I had heard all year, and apparently so did many others because she was nominated for best Jazz Instrumental Album of the Year (I thought she should have won). The award went to Wayne Shorter (one of my favorites, and he has the recognition, so I guess I’ll live with it), but Tia’s album is still FIRE!!! Check out the article and listen to the music in our archives!

In the upcoming weeks, I have some very good (and interesting), music to write about. I plan on writing about Marvin Gaye’s new release (it will be released by the end of this week) “You’re the Man” which was recorded in 1072, and I also will review some of the music of Dr. Don Shirley’s (he of the Academy Award winning movie “The Green Book”) music too, and many new national and international artists as well. AND, I plan on visiting Baltimore MD at the end of March to see Darrin Atwater’s Soulful Symphony at Morgan State University. I will definitely be writing about that!
You can also catch me in the SoulPitt Magazine where I have been the Music contributor for two years. You can find the magazine in many shopping establishments around the greater Pittsburgh area.

I sincerely thank you again for your support. I apologize for not responding to the comment section (I’ve been super busy trying to earn money for a new powerful computer which will allow me to work more efficiently). I should be up to speed on that real soon.
Thanks again, and please continue to stop by and check out the site as it comes together, and remember, next time “Catch you on the Corner”!

B. B. Suber

Continue Reading
NMJazz Mag - Ad

Jazz N-Motion