Label: MAMA Records
Release date: May 2017Catalog number: M1053
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Outstanding, unique, though provoking large ensemble jazz with special guests!
Featuring acclaimed jazz artists, Rich Perry and Ingrid Jensen, the Hyeseon Hong Jazz Orchestra is an 18-piece band featuring Hyeseon’s original jazz compositions drawing inspiration from her rich Korean musical heritage. The classical rhythms and sounds from traditional Korean music are interwoven with a modern big band sensibility creating a unique sound.
Ms. Hong, who is originally from Seoul, South Korea, has been working in both NYC and Asia for the past 15 years as a band leader and composer in a wide range of orchestration settings. Her band which has been performing throughout New York for the past several years under her leadership, brought their talent to Bunker Studios in Brooklyn to lay down her original sounding music.
“EE-YA-GI” (or “stories” interpreted) is Ms. Hong’s debut big band album featuring radiant sonic spaces brimming with energy and colorful vitality. Rich Perry and Ingrid Jensen are featured soloists throughout the album, with specially featured roles on “Boat Song” and “Love Song” respectively. Filling the rest of the ranks of the group with some of the busiest big band players on the NYC jazz scene today, EE-YA-GI really delivers the goods!
Composer and director: Hyeseon Hong
Saxes: Ben Kono (alto, soprano, ute), Matt Vashlishan (alto, EWI, ute), Rich Perry (tenor),
Jeremy Powell (tenor, clariet), Andrew Hadro (Bari, bs clarinet)
Trumpets: Augie Haas, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Wiseman, Colin Brigstocke
Trombones: Ron Wilkens, Daniel Linden, Ric Becker, Becca Patterson
Rhythm: Matt Panayides (guitar), Broc Hempel (piano), John Lenis (bass), Mark Ferber (drums)
Cadence Magazine by Robert Rusch
“…Hong has produced a CD that overall is fresh, features some exceptional compositions and sounds like no other jazz orchestra that comes to mind…”
-Robert Rusch for CADENCE Magazine
What a delightful surprise. Korean-born composer / arranger Hyeseon Hong, a graduate of NYU who now lives in New Jersey, enfolds the best of two worlds —east and west —on her superlative debut album, EE-YA-GI (Stories), introducing Hong’s eighteen-piece Jazz Orchestra and some heavy-hitting soloists including trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry.
While Hong salutes her heritage at various points along the way, she proves on every number her conclusive grasp of traditional western jazz, writing themes whose handsome melodic and harmonic framework is nourished by an abiding sense of swing as epitomized by large ensembles from Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington through Basie, Herman, Buddy Rich, Jones-Lewis and others of that breed. As the album’s title denotes, Hong’s writing is largely thematic, ranging from Thanksgiving (“Harvest Dance”) to youth and love (“Friends or Lovers”), long- lost friends (“Para mi Amigo Distante”), her Korean heritage (“Boat Song”), girlhood memories (“Disappearing Into Foam”), first love (“Love Song”) and even the idiosyncrasies of an unruly dog (“Trash Digging Queen”).
The opening “Harvest Dance,” inspired, Hong writes, by a traditional Korean rhythm, encompasses bright solos by Jensen and trombonist Ron Wilkens. Alto Ben Kono, guitarist Matt Panayides and Matt Vashlishan on EWI are the soloists on the light-footed “Friends or Lovers,” Kono (soprano) and tenor Jeremy Powell on “Para mi Amigo,” which dances to a breezy Latin groove. Perry is showcased on the eastern-oriented “Boat Song” (which includes a wordless vocal by E.J. Park and Subin Park) and solos again on the playful “Trash Digging Queen.” Pianist Broc Hempel is the lone improviser on the lyrical “Disappearing into Foam” (with more wordless vocals), trumpeter Jensen on the warm and even-tempered finale, “Love Song.”
As one whose path lies mostly on the horizon, Hyeseon Hong has served notice with EE-YA-GI that hers is a voice to be hearkened to and applauded within the ranks of contemporary big-band composers and arrangers. Well done.
“It’s a delightful debut, filled with swing, classical flourishes, post-bop and, most enticingly of all, traditional Korean folk melodies…”
-The Aquarian Weekly / Rant ‘N’ Roll by Mike Greenblatt
HYESEON HONG/Ee-ya-gi: “A Korean composer/arranger that learned her Carla Bley lessons well adds her New York stay to her style and comes in with a solid, left leaning jazz date that’s quite encompassing in scope and has some stellar guests along for the ride rounding out the sound. Mixing a lot of things deftly without feeling like anything is borrowed, this is someone who can say she leads a jazz orchestra proudly. Solid stuff throughout.”
HyeSeon Hong – EE-YA-GI (STORIES): Having lived in Korea for around 15 years, I can tell you that the kind of jazz Ms. Hong leads here wasn’t at all common until (maybe) around the early 21st century… even as late as 2010, those band leaders (and players) who were doing jazz still hadn’t quite “got it” – so this excellent 50 minute set featuring a whole host of players, is truly a treat! As you listen to great songs like “Para Mi Amigo Distante“, you’ll realize just how talented she and her players are at developing a piece gradually (it clocks in at 8:00 minutes) into the kind of jazz that the genre came from in the first place… each of the instruments melds into the overall effort to give you one of the most pleasant jazz listens you’ll ever experience! I just loved the vocal work on the oddly titled “Disappearing Into Foam“, and the piano work is superb! From the standpoint of Korean music integrated seamlessly with great jazz, my personal favorite of the seven tunes offered up, though, is the light and airy opener, “Harvest Dance“… one of the strongest full-blown orchestral jazz pieces I’ve heard (yet) in 2017. I give HyeSeon and her playmates a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for this superb album, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.
-Improvijazzation Nation by Dick Metcalf
The name Hyeseon Hong might not be very familiar to the jazz diaspora yet. However, this Korean jazz arranger and composer based in New York shows strong attributes in her debut album, Ee-Ya-Gi (meaning Stories), to get further and enchant the world with her genre-bending orchestrations. Moreover, she surrounds herself with a fantastic group of 18 musicians that make sure her musical stories are emboldened and get proper wings.
The band’s lineup not only includes two habitués of Maria Schneider Orchestra, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Rich Perry on tenor saxophone, but also the multi-reedists Matt Vashlishan, member of the Dave Liebman’s Expansion quintet, and Ben Kono, who has been working regularly with Ed Palermo, as well as the sought-after drummer Mark Ferber whose percussive thuds and thumps can be found on records by trumpeter Ralph Alessi, his trombonist twin brother Alan Ferber, and Spanish bassist Alexis Cuadrado.
“Harvest Dance” opens the record with a full-bodied richness. Overflowing with contemporary moves, the sounds are elegantly layered within a harmonious combination of Korean melodic grace and Ellingtonian jazz fantasy. The improvisers in this piece are trombonist Dave Wilkens, whose vocabulary develops passionately after a wonderful solo entrance, and Jensen, who drills into the surface, using forceful attacks suffused with melody.
“Friends or Lovers” kicks in with robust power chords, with the similar tones of Pete Townshend and The Who, and advances with contrapuntal horn ostinatos over a bass pedal until acquiring a captivating swinging jazz flow. The first soloist jumping to the forefront is Kono, whose phrasing is delineated with straightforward melodies that take a convincing rhythmic course. The articulated guitarist Matt Panayides, who skillfully plays with pitches and intervals, immediately follows him and just before the rock curtains come down again to finish off the tune, Vashlishan brings his EWI to the spotlight.
This vibrant setting is softened on “Para Mi Amigo Distante”, a gentle yet colorful piece freshly dressed up with bossa nova outfits. The mellifluous melodic guidelines are reinforced through Kono’s soprano, whose easiness made me think of Toots Thielemans, but the tenor player Jeremy Powell fires it up a little bit.
Carrying a traditional Korean folk melody at its core, “Boat Song” moves at an arresting 6/4 tempo, featuring emotional vocalized laments and a beautiful, heartfelt solo full of intention by the veteran tenorist Rich Perry. This Oriental balminess diverges from the classical aromas of Broc Hempel’s piano on “Disappearing Into Foam”, a palpitating waltz inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.
The cartoonish melodies and strong rhythmic accentuations of “Trash Digging Queen” contrast with the delicacy of “Love Song”, the closing tune. Both feature Jensen’s wide-ranging dynamic lines.
Exhibiting an insatiable appetite for jazz-fusion, Ms. Hong proves to be a talented orchestrator and musical thinker who is not afraid to risk while crossing genre boundaries.
On first listen you will find it hard to believe that “EE-YA-GI” is only the first album released by big band leader Hyeson Hong. Such a well developed approach to arranging is rare with a debut recording, but truth be told, Hyeson is hardly a newbie as she has been leading ensembles in both Korea and New York City for some time now. Its only appropriate that she has finally been given a chance to share her sophisticated writing and arranging with the rest of the world. There are seven tracks on “EE-YA-GI”, and each one stands as their own separate colorful world of sounds and melodies. Hong’s approach is rooted in the modern big band sounds of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, plus some exotic colors reminiscent of Don Ellis, some modern 3rd stream influence ala Marie Schneider, and even some sophisticated pop sass in a vein similar to Quincy Jones. To all this Hong often adds melodies taken from her native Korea, the end result is an infinitely interesting orchestral extravaganza that is all her own. The talented 18 piece orchestra of New Yorkers that Hong leads on her debut album is accented by Marie Schneider alumna such as Rich Perry on tenor sax and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. The wordless vocals of EJ Park adds much exotic color to many of the melodies, and Korean vocalist, Subin Park, leads “Boat Song” with a traditional ‘Chang’ song.
The aforementioned “Boat Song” probably carries the most Korean flavor, while album opener, “Harvest Dance”, also displays much melodic content from Hong’s homeland. “Disappearing into Foam” and “Love Song” are melodic and romantic, while “Trash Digging Queen” (an ode to Hyeseon’s misbehaving pet dog), has a hectic and almost comical arrangement that features constantly shifting rhythms. Possibly an album highlight though is “Para Mi Arrigo Distante”, which features a rib-sticking melody that recalls some of Quincy Jones best work in the 60s. Modern big band enthusiasts take note, “EE-YA-GI” is complex and challenging, but also fun and buoyant too. Such an excellent balance, lets hope there will be many more albums from Hyeseon Hong in the near future.
-Jazz Music Archives by John Sanders
“Here is a sterling example of how the originality and appeal of jazz has found its way from America to distant parts of the world and back. Hyeseon Hong is Korean by birth and now lives in New York City. The music on this, her debut recording, suggests the eternally fascinating artistic dialogue between cultures and reveals Hong’s personal approach to classical structures, jazz big band tradition and music native to Korea. Hong features two soloists who reflect a New York band sensibility: trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry. “Harvest Dance” is inspired by a traditional Korean rhythm. That sensibility is there at the start but soon is deftly blended with classical music and textures of a well-oiled big band. Ron Wilkens takes a brash and boisterous trombone solo and then, after a brief orchestral section, Jensen finds a smooth entry into what becomes a passionately intense solo statement. The piece also makes use of quiet vocal effects. “Friends or Lovers” is something else, starting out with rock-like chords and brimming with tension and energy. The themes positively bubble forth from a solidly smoking big band and then via smart solos by alto saxophonist Ben Kono and guitarist Matt Panayides. Both pay careful attention to the tune’s changes but hear different sounds, as does Matt Vashlishan on Electric Wind Instrument. Hong brilliantly understands the big band language but has found creative ways to express it: “Para Mi Amigo Distante” is a quietly Latin-inflected dance of meaningful connection; “Boat Song” is based on a traditional Korean melody, sung here by Subin Park, which leads into an exploration of Hong’s orchestral palette, graced by a lovely and soulful improvisation from Perry. And the recording closes with a gloriously heartfelt depiction of a memory of first love, “Love Song”, which finds Jensen as a most expressive vehicle of such emotion, played in conjunction with the richness of this fine orchestra. It beautifully rounds off this fine debut.
-Donald Elfman for NYC Jazz Record