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Helen Sung – Whats’ On Your Playlist?

Jazzed Magazine • March 2014What's on Your Playlist? • March 26, 2014

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HSung_CVR_FINAL_5x5CMYK300A classical pianist and composer who discovered – and then fully immersed herself in – jazz in her early twenties, Helen Sung’s music and playing reflects a unique and refreshing perspective. Having received Bachelor and Master’s degrees of Music in Classical Piano Performance from University of Texas, Sung then studied at NEC’s then-brand new Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Steady gigs in the Boston area ultimately led to a move to NYC in the late ‘90s where she assembled her own small ensemble and, in 2002, Sung released her first album, Push. Four acclaimed albums have followed in the subsequent years, as have stage and studio projects with the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, Clark Terry, and Regina Carter. Helen Sung recently released her Concord Jazz debut album, Anthem for a New Day.

1. Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1 J.S. Bach – Performed by Glenn Gould

A mainstay from my classical days, Gould’s recording of Bach’s WTC is one of my favorites. When I start to come apart at the seams, Gould’s brilliant rendition of this timeless work knits me back together.

2. I Sing The Body Electric Weather Report 

I love the raw wildness of early Weather Report: such joyous, unabashed music-making! I was blown away when I heard “Directions” for the first time – in fact, one of the compositions on my new album is inspired by that song.

3. “Equipoise” Stanley Cowell on Max Roach’s Members, Don’t Git Weary 

Alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo introduced me to this song when I played on one of his gigs. “Equipoise” haunted me for a long time and I listened to as many versions as I could find. Max Roach’s version is one of my favorites.

4. We’ll Be Together Again Pat Martino w/Gil Goldstein

The guitarist Sheryl Bailey recommended I check out this album since I am a big fan of Gil Goldstein (who plays Rhodes here!) and wanted to learn more about Pat Martino’s work. I love the easygoing, contemplative feel of the entire album – it’s two superb musicians playing together with sensitivity, beauty, and depth. What great tune choices too!

5. Soul Station  Hank Mobley

I can’t believe I only recently heard this album – a classic burning swinger. The feel of the music on this record is what first hooked me on jazz!

6. Music For Large & Small Ensembles (“Sweet Time Suite Part 1 – Opening”) Kenny Wheeler

In addition to this being an absolutely terrific album, this is one of the most beautiful intros I have ever heard. The sweeping yet intimate texture, the colors and orchestration, and what a melody! My heart aches a little each time I listen to it.

7. Low End Theory  A Tribe Called Quest

The bassist Richie Goods introduced this group and album to me. Whenever I feel like kickin’ back this is one to revisit over and over. What an intelligent, humorous, and funky musical manifesto!

8. “Bitter Bitter” Meshell Ndegeocello

I admire how each of her albums is a world in itself, how she embraces so much with each project – musically, spiritually, emotionally, socially, and politically. This is one of my favorite songs by Ms. Ndegeocello; I liked it so much I arranged it for jazz quartet.

9. Music from the Motion Picture Bend It Like Beckham

A guilty pleasure (ha!) – I really enjoyed the music from this movie, especially the passionate bhangra selections like “Darshan” and “Punjabiyan Di Shaan.”

10. Largo (“When It Rains”) Brad Mehldau

Wayne Shorter has been one of my big influences, and I enjoy listening to him recount how movie music has been one of his sources of inspiration. When a song in a movie or TV show jumps out at me I try to find the source, and it was a nice surprise to discover this evocative, pungent gem by Mehldau.

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