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Edmar Castaneda Jazz Angel of Columbia South American February 25, 2019

 

On February 2, 2019 the stage of Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (Pittsburgh, PA), was graced with the duo of South American (Columbia), jazz virtuoso musicians Edmar Castaneda/ harp, and Grammy Award Winner Gregoire Maret /harmonica. The banality of the previous sentence cannot begin to convey the explosion of beautiful music these two exceptional musicians shared with a captivated and enchanted audience.

 

The sound that emanated from the electric harp of Edmar was at times ethereal and at other times just down to earth funky, and Gregoire’s harmonica expertly and fluidly accentuated the heights and fancies of the spirited and lively playing that Edmar’s fingertips produced. Edmar can make a harp sing, thump and cry. His emotional range on his instrument is just as wide as his virtuosity is high. He brings out sounds and music that you would never expect a harp to produce, and he emotes in such a marvelous fashion that he can make you feel what he is feeling as he plays. And just as great of a musician as Edmar is, Gregoire is his equal with his “ax” of choice, the harmonica.    The product of the two musicians was amazing beyond description, and after being blown away by their performance, I had to meet the two musicians in person and purchase

Edmar’s latest CD; Edmar Castaneda World Ensemble (Live at the Jazz standard).    Both men were very friendly and Edmar (in his ever preset Kangol style hat) was extremely engaging, and he also was pleased to know that they would be featured on my small corner. Gregoire, on the other hand, spoke very little English so we couldn’t communicate much (especially since my Spanish is probably much worse than his English), although he spoke volumes on stage with his harmonica.

Gregiori Maret

Since I only wore my music fan hat at the Guild concert that night, I did not take notes. At times a person must simply exist and enjoy the music, and that’s exactly what I did, but the album I purchased brought a small sampling of what I witnessed at the concert home with me. The album has only six songs on it, but those six songs are all lengthy (the average length is about 10 minutes), and those six pieces give you an inkling of what the live performance spectacularly delivered. By the way, Edmar is also an accomplished composer as well. Of the six songs, all but one (Carrao Carrao), were composed and arranged by Edmar, and the entire album was produced by him too!

The World Ensemble consisted of six other musicians besides Edmar and Gregoire: Marshall Gilkes/Trombone; Itai Kriss/Flute; Shlomi Cohen/Soprano Sax; Pablo Vergara/Piano; Rodrigo Villlon/Drums; and David Silliman/Percussion. There are also three “special guests” on the album; Andrea Tierra/vocals; Tamer Pinarbasi/Qanun (a middle eastern lute like instrument); and Sergio Krakowski/Pandero (a tambourine like instrument).

The first song on this colorful album is entitled Cuarto De Colores (Room of Colors). From the initial downbeat Edmar jumps in with both feet, or, as I should say, both hands. He pounds out the melody with a ferocious intensity that doesn’t let up for nearly the entire eleven minutes of the tune, and all the bassline you hear is played via the Edmar’s left hand on his harp. It’s startling how much sound and power he produces out of his instrument. When I first heard him play, I did not know what to expect. I had never seen an electric harp, and I anticipated the sound associated with the acoustic version of the instrument; well, I was wrong. Although the sound is very similar, the electric harp produces a harp sound that is on steroids! Its bold and vibrant in a way that is otherworldly. You just do not expect to hear what you’re hearing, and….its great!

Cuarto de Colores is a song that reeks of Columbia and the Latin flavored jazz of the region. The rhythm and flow of the music is indicative of the region from whence Edmar hails. The African influence is a huge part of the music just as the black people of South America make up a large part of the continent’s population. Their influence cannot be denied, but it is instead celebrated within the music, rhythm and dance of the Southern Hemisphere. South America is a large “room of colors” and every color of the heritage of the people of the region manifests itself in the music. This tune exhibits that reality in an energetically superb fashion.

The length of the song also allows space for the song to evolve and transform in complexity of sound and feel. The horn section has a meaty quality to it; they sound loud and large in unison, and as all the musicians are allowed their room to speak during this number, they each add their own flavor to the rhythmic soup, the result is a journey of grand proportions. Itai Kriss’ flute solo is creative and spontaneous. It is balanced and crisp and never becomes laborious. Itai seems to frolic through the measures as he tells his delightful story. He is followed by the virtuoso talent of Gregoire on the harmonica.

Edmar and the Harps!

Although for most Americans the harmonica may evoke thoughts of Stevie wonder or Toots Theilesmens (he of Sesame St. fame), or even Lee Oskar of the band WAR, but Gregoire has a style all his own. He plays in a style that is reminiscent of a guitar player. He approaches each note at times almost as if he were plucking a string. It’s a wonderful effect that adds to the complexity and timbre of the instrument. But he also allows the uniqueness of the harmonica’s qualities to shine through as well. He’s an amazing musician and fills the room with his soul and sound. Percussionist David Sillman exhibits his talents for a few bars, and then as the song winds down with each horn player improvising for a few bars and the song ends as abruptly as is began. This song is amazing from beginning to completion and it never leaves the listener fatigued (but I can’t say the same for any dancers who may try to keep up).

The third song on the CD is entitled Jesus De Nazareth. It’s a beautifully enchanting song that evokes a pacing quiet grace. Edmar is a religious man, and although not in overbearing fashion he does openly acknowledge his Christianity. This beautiful song emotes his faith in a way that words cannot. Its genesis is enigmatic as it quietly builds in dynamics, complexity and urgency. It continues its inexorable march and slowly grows into a heavenly melody of unearthly beauty. This is initially a solo number that displays a certain simplistic complexity that very few solo instruments can pull off; the harp is made for a tune like this.

As the song builds, the listener can hear all the intricacies of the harp. The bassline and melody seem nearly independent of one another; almost as if they were played on separate instruments. At almost exactly six minutes in, the entire band joins in to help tell the story. It’s the Gospel according to Castaneda, and although there are no written words, one can begin to understand what Edmar’s Savior means to him. We can also begin to gain some insight into Edmar’s quiet regal character the he publicly exhibits.

Adrea Tierra

Although not written by Edmar, Carrao Carrao, the fifth song of the CD is a beautiful number that I simply must talk about. A carrao is a beautiful wading bird indigenous to Florida and South America. The lovely voice of Adrea Tierra sings this song which also happens to be the only vocal number on this CD. The eerie beauty of this tune goes hand in hand with the beauty found on this CD itself, and it also lends itself to the beauty of Edmar’s craftmanship on the harp. Andrea sings with and insistent grace that draws you in even if you speak no Spanish. And one thing I found so remarkable is her ability to thrill the double “r” in the Spanish language. I, personally, have never heard anyone thrill those consonants to such an extent. The ability accentuates the beauty and mystery of the song. Andrea has an impeccable voice, with masterful command of her vocal cords, pitch and range. This song exudes mystery intertwined with the call of nature’s beauty. It’s a lovely interlude on an intensely rich album. A “must listen” for any music fan.

The last song on this CD is entitled Zamir Blues. This song is the funkiest tune on the disc. It has a cool steady groove and it keeps you rocking. The song begins with a funky bass intro that Edmar so expertly plays with his right hand on the bass strings of the harp, eventually he begins to explore the improvised melody of the intro with his left, his technique and musicianship as stellar as ever. After the brief solo intro, the percussion and drums set a smoking rhythm to accompany the harp, and usher in the entire band. Edmar continues the bass line which anchors the tune and the groove. After a few bars of nastiness, the entire ensemble enters in and the band erupts into the body of the song.

The World Ensemble.

The number has a familiar tone and quality to it, but the music is new and fresh. The song progresses and Gregoire begins to speak to the crowd with an inspired melodic funky and thoughtful harmonica voice which leaves the listener in awe while being completely entertained. The trombone of Gilkes speaks up next. He pours out his thoughtful sermon in a complete and satisfying fashion. Finally, Edmar enters in again with his solo, and you’re again amazed by the bass hand he displays, but there’s a reason for that too. You see, Edmar’s bass hero is Jaco Pastorius (Edmar even named a song after him), and Edmar has learned a thing or two about how the bass should be played by one of the best bassists ever.

This song has all the elements of a classic, and the one thought that I cannot shake as I contemplate America’s Black History month, and as I listen to not only this song, but the entire album, as well as jazz music from the four corners of the world is just how influential and ubiquitous American Jazz has become, and how it has shaped and defined modern musical language. Jazz is a language that brings people from diverse backgrounds and circumstances together. It’s America’s gift to the World’s musical conversation. A gift that was born in the rough fields of American slavery; a gift that was born out of the African rhythms of drumbeats heard on a distant continent, and a gift that was birthed out of the interpretation of a culture and a music that was foreign to and foisted upon unwilling subjects. This music is a bridge to all of mankind. It can be heard on every continent in the world, and it speaks a universal language that all can understand. Out of adversity emerges supreme beauty.

Well, once again I arrive at the end of another fun adventure. I must apologize for the, as of late, irregular postings. I am doing a lot of research and listening to various artists and I am trying to bring fresh and new (or, should I say, unfamiliar), artists to the conversation. I don’t want to become bored or sound stale as I do what I love, and this it to entertain (I hope) you. I hope to bring many new and extremely good local musicians to light, and (as I do not want to jump the gun and tip my hand), I hope to bring some exciting local musicians to the table, and also continue to write about established artists that I like as well.

Let me do my due diligence and state for the record that I do not own the rights to any music videos or images of artists that appear on this page or in this article. I refer to the “fair use” clause within the law to use this material.

I want to stir up interest, as well as give you a hint of things to come, by letting you know that N-Motion Entertainment will not only continue to bring stellar musicians to the Stage, but we will be doing some exciting work along the lines of some of the events we have done in the past. Tell you family and friends to stop by the “Corner” and read the articles, leave comments, make suggestions, and in the near future, you will be able to take advantage of special offers and discounts available only to readers of this article. We appreciate all of you, and I ‘d like to personally thank any and all of you for stopping by and checking things out.

Well, that’s all for now, and as always, 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”!

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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

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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

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