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Helenistique by Helen Sung Trio

While she's got a ways to go before Legendhood, pianist Ms. Helen Sung (Houston by birth, NYC-area based) is up on the scoreboard (if a scoreboard there be) as a mature up-and-comer. She's paid her dues with the ensembles of the legendary Clark Terry and fellow contender Greg Tardy.

Sung plays with a somewhat torrential, pointed style, and a mercurial temperament that's equal parts Bud Powell and Dave Brubeck influence. Unlike many so-called modernists, Sung also acknowledges the influence of pre-bop pianists,exemplified by her charming cover of stride icon James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout." She has considerable (as in happening) technique yet doesn't feel the need to flaunt it - Helenistique consists of 12 succinct swingers and ballads.

Sung and bandmates Lewis and Hodge (who has a resume including hip-hop and jazz) play exactly what they need to and no more. The pacing is well-done, the right mix/balance of brisk and chill. My only caveat is that I wish she and her trio had pushed the envelope a tiny bit more - as (very) good as this is, it seems a little "retro" at times. (In this case, "retro" as in: like The New Thing through post-Fusion epochs never happened.)

This is the kind of blue-plate special fans of straight-ahead hard bop piano (more Prestige than Blue Note ambiance-wise) will eat up with a knife, fork & spoon and go back for seconds.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Helen Sung Trio
  • CD Title: Helenistique
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent
  • Musicians: H. Sung (piano, producer), Derrick Hodge (bass), Lewis Nash (drums), Benny Green (liner notes).
  • Rating: Three Stars
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