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  • Jonathan Widran

HYEONSEON BAEK, Longing

Korean born, Netherlands educated and now residing and thriving as an up and coming jazz artist in NYC playing with some of its most famed progressive musicians, Hyeonseon Baek is a true musical citizen of the world, eager on his seductive, rhythmically eclectic and impeccably arranged debut album Longing to conquer fresh original territory even as he celebrates the glorious legends of an earlier era.


Rather than randomly blending his own compositions among his uniquely phrased interpretations of the greats, he applies his supple, soulful vocals and otherworldly scat skills to songs divided into three distinct thematic sections. The first three roll breezily as tributes to influential heroes, starting with Duke Ellington (a playfully swinging roll through “Caravan”), Joe Henderson (a dreamy, lyrical and spiritual exploration of “Black Narcissus”) and Charles Mingus (a gently reflective, romantic minded “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love.” Just when we’re settling into Baek’s emotionally intuitive way with standards, he showcases his passions for snazzy swing and the Greenwich Village club scene on the peripatetic “West 4th St.”, which blends English with his native Korean, name checks greats like Chick and Herbie and includes some of the album’s most remarkable, scale-defying scat interludes.


The emotional core of project comes with Baek's charming, hypnotic mid-tempo ballad “Longing” and “My Temptation,” an offbeat, smoky song expressing great love and desire. The album’s “third act” returns to his unique mining of the past, including a slow, steady burn through “Lush Life,” a sweet and poetic take on “A Timeless Place” (originally the Jimmy Rowles instrumental “A Timeless Place” and a subtle, gorgeous rendition of Horace Silver’s “Peace” which comes across as something of a gentle clarion call for the current generation (and begins with a stunning bass solo by Linda May Han Oh).


Baek wraps the set with the full-on, spritely English version of “West 4th,” which brings us into his current unique creative environment. Longing is a wonderfully engaging and inspiring debut by a promising new vocalist and songwriter whose gifts include being a great bandleader of the perfect ensemble to fulfill his vision – a team that, in addition to the bassist Oh includes woodwind player Lucas Pino, pianist Kevin Hays (an amazing soloist) and drummer Joechen Rueckert.       

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