What an extraordinary talent Connie Han is – and what a band! This is her third album out front and her best to date. And as it bursts from the speakers, with all the surety that jazz was never dead, has not only always had a pulse but is extremely pulsing, I’m reminded of that phenomenal 80s jazz touchstone, Black Codes (From The Underground) by the “Young Lions” under the whip of Wynton Marsalis. Maybe it’s the fact that the album opens with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt stating the melody, Han sitting back. But also there’s the make-up of the band, the types of players here echoing that strong crew. Where Wynton had brother Branford on the tenor and pianist Kenny Kirkland, Han at the keys has Pelt and saxophonist Walter Smith III. It’s a comparable crew. Bassist Ivan Taylor is the rock here. And drummer Bill Wysaske is not just a sure hand on the skins, he’s producer and musical director. When he delivers the very Art Blakely-like solo across Mr. Dominator you feel that this could have been, for those moments at least, his record.
But Han is, eventually, the star. Still in her early 20s, she plays with a lifetime of experience already. And there’s the easy melodicism of McCoy Tyner instantly brought to mind (Dominator) as well as the more muscular playing of more recent stars like Matthew Shipp (For The O.G.).
As comfortable going Bob James on the Rhodes (Nova, Hello To The Wind), Han is such a calm presence across much of this – but she’ll dance off in swirls of colour to remind you of peak-bop Hancock (Boy Toy) and dance mellifluously across the keys with the grace of Keith Jarrett in small-combo ballad mode (The Forsaken).
Such a joy to listen to – this band, this star. These great tunes. A very fine outing from a class ensemble.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron