Helen Sung Sextet Live At Jazz Standard

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Helen Sung

Celebrating the release of Anthem for a New Day
(Concord, 2014) – Report from New York by Tomas Peña

In spite of the frigid temperatures and an impending Nor’easter the vibe at The Jazz Standard was warm, fuzzy and festive. Like always, there was the usual assortment of individuals – tourists, voyeurs, musicians and patrons of the arts – but mostly, everyone came out to celebrate the release of Helen Sung’s latest effort, Anthem for a New Day.

I showed up for the first set and I’m happy to report that Sung and her band were smokin’. The Sextet came out swinging with The Chaos Theory, a quirky, original composition whose split-second changes turned up the heat. Brother Thelonious was a perfect vehicle for Canadian trumpeter, Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Seamus Blake, who were in fine form, together and apart. The tune, Anthem for a New Day acknowledges Sung’s transition from a classical musician to a jazz musician, an experience she describes as “emancipating.”

Helen Sung came to jazz late in life. She studied classical music through college, caught the jazz bug at a Harry Connick Jr. concert and never looked back. After years of studying, practicing and touring she is, “happy to be in a place, where the diverse pieces of her experiences are coming together in an organic, beautiful way.”

Midway through the set, NEA Jazz Master and 2014 Grammy Award winner in the Latin Jazz Category, Paquito D’Rivera joined Helen’s band for a lively interpretation of Chick Corea’s Armando’s Rhumba and a delightful re-interpretation of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). Now an elder statesman, Paquito swings with the best of them and his mastery on the reeds is astonishing.

The supporting cast bears special mention: Bassist Ruben Rogers, Drummer Obed Calvaire, percussionist Samuel Torres, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Seamus Blake, all superb musicians, most leaders in their own right.

Helen Sung is a marvelous pianist, composer and arranger who describes her style as, “earthy, soulful, messy and full of surprises.” Onstage she exudes positivity, a mischievous sense of adventure and a contagious enthusiasm that inspires everyone around her. More important, she is fun to watch.

Hankering for more yet mindful of the dreaded impending weather I decided to call it a night. As I made for the door I couldn’t help but notice that the prevailing attitude was, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we dig,” only in New York.

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