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  • Jonathan Widran

EUNMI LEE, Introspection

A true musical citizen of the world and fast emerging, multi-faceted musical visionary, pianist/composer Eunmi Lee made her initial mark in her native Korea in theatre, bandstand and media music before furthering her musical education – and gigging extensively – in the Netherlands and since 2020, New York City, where she earned her Master of Music degree from NYU as a jazz piano major. During this time, the multiple award-winning artist had the opportunity to work with three time Grammy nominated trombonist Alan Ferber – who not only signed on to produce Eunmi’s stellar, stylistically eclectic debut Introspection, but also plays with the horn section on four of its seven tracks.

Most new artists, eager to fit in, would stay in a single lane, get established before venturing into other musical territories. Yet flush with the confidence of being a veteran performer coming into her own as a recording artist, Eunmi seems intent on strutting every aspect of her vast artistry, journeying refreshingly outside any safe categories that might make it easy to peg what kind of jazz artist she is. She asserts her trad jazz and improvisational bona-fides on the on the bustling, quick-swinging opening track “Gimmick,” leading her ensemble (featuring an explosive solo by tenor saxman John Ellis) on a whimsical ride.

Then, just as we’re getting ready for a frolic through mainstream jazz-land, her freewheeling muse takes over and she boldly eases into darker emotional territory on the “Suspicion,” a powerful mood swinging tune featuring violin, viola and cello that was initially composed as a chamber piece, “created,” she says, “to experiment with compositional ideas outside the functional harmony.” Interestingly, it’s the one track on the album not leading with her on piano. She uses those lush strings to build drama behind her thoughtful and melodic ivory reflections on “5.19,” which comes across like a lush and elegant film score track.

Tapping into the theme promised by the album title Introspection, the lyrical tune captures the emotional changes she experienced while immersing into the culture and new social scene in the Netherlands a few years ago. It’s not often that a new artist’s liner notes connect passionate musical expressions to social commentary, but Eunmi does so brilliantly with the provocatively titled, rambunctious, percussive and quirky “Narcissism,” a track featuring buoyant solos on double bass (Matt Cohesy, in the introduction), trombone (Ferber) and alto sax (Remy Le Boeuf) that was wisely chosen as the project’s lead single. It’s a spirited listen, but at heart it’s her googly eyed take on the egocentricity she experienced on social media during the pandemic.

Her offbeat reflections continue blissfully on the vibrant, soulfully grooving and defiantly brassy big band vibe of “Mr. Weird” – which she calls “and exciting and humorous exploration of others and myself.” Between the rising brass sections are more heartfelt piano and sax solos. Eunmi wraps her heartfelt, so often emotionally vulnerable presentation with the elegant, low key quartet meditation “Wavelength” (inspired by the empathy and compassion she experienced from people during the pandemic) and “Azure,” which reflects the “color of my heart” by fusing her love for and expertise with chamber music and big band – with an intricate guitar solo by Vinicius Gomes bridging those worlds.

Introspection is a fascinating debut from an artist whose sense of melodic and harmonic adventure knows know bounds. It’s an exciting foundation for a career that promises to be a fruitful, ever-evolving excursion into the future of contemporary jazz.


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