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  • Jonathan Widran

ELLIE LEE, Escape

South Korea born pianist Ellie Lee’s auspicious, wildly inventive and adventurous debut album Escape comes courtesy of her finding peace in reconciling her early classical training with a later, all-encompassing desire to break the restraints and embrace the freedom of jazz.


The colorful journey/transition happened in the realm of her formal education, earning her Bachelor of Music in Classical Piano Performance from Sookmyung Women’s University, then securing a scholarship to Berklee School of Music, where she received a Professional Diploma and studied with various jazz masters and finally earning a Master of Music in Jazz Performance degree from Wiliam Paterson University in Wayne NJ.


The seven vibrantly performed and arranged originals and a lyrical, explosively improvisational twist on Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” perfectly embody a quote that serves as her artistic mantra: Despite the fact that she had become frustrated by classical music’s rigidity, she has begun to feel “the co-existence between classical music and jazz music.”


The opening title track, a fiery, bustling and freewheeling duet with saxophonist Steve Wilson, lives up to its freedom seeking concept, with Wilson’s unbridled improvisational energy backed by Lee’s dynamic pounding chords, followed by a glorious, extended high spirited piano solo (impressively using the high register keys) that sets the aesthetic tone for the whole album – and by extension laying a foundation for a promising career.


The eight song set offers a lot of rhythmic and tonal variation, from the playful, lyrical swinging of “Beyond The Blue” (featuring another killer solo by Wilson) and the charming, dreamy ballad “A Fine Day” to the fitful whimsy of “Toss and Turn” (highlighted by Steve LaSpina’s plucky bass solo and driving undercurrent) and a spritely drive “On The Road,” which eases from subtle bass-piano interaction early on to a sparkling, faster tempo a few miles later.

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