As someone who has written for theater, musicals and film, Jungsu Choi is no stranger to the grand. The South Korean composer has brought together a band of twelve top class musicians – with the power of at least twice that number. Throughout Tschüss Jazz Era, his Tiny Orkester plays through five pieces that are all arranged by Choi, including two Choi originals, “Stolen Yellow” and “Nach Wien 224”.
Driven by the high energy drumming of Hyunsu Lee, “Stolen Yellow” starts the album out with a bang. The alto saxophone, played by Yusun Nam, demands the listeners attention with a rambunctious solo, which is well complemented by interesting comping from Sungyun Hong’s guitar. The Choi original is followed by a fine take of Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” that features a duo section of soulful, swinging interplay between the flute (Eunmi Kim) and tenor saxophone (Sungil Bae). “Nach Wien 224” starts low key, with wordless vocals shadowing the guitar to form a smooth motif that is eventually elaborated on by the rest of the band. Although the beginning of the tune has great lines from the horns, it’s the beautiful bowed notes of Sehwa Kang’s cello that stand out during the more spacious moments.
Unlike “Nach Wien 224”, “What if Ellington Didn’t Take The ‘a’ Train?” does not open with subtlety. Pianist Jungmin Lee begins proceedings with a brief section of ominous, pacy playing as the guitar surrounds him with walls of warped distortion before the track swiftly morphs into more straight-ahead big band fare. The latter half of the tune has another huge shift in atmosphere, the guitar ripping through a top-notch fusion-style solo as the rest of the band combines to form strong melodic phrases behind it.
The album closes with Chick Corea’s “Spain”, where the singing of Jinho Pyo takes the spotlight. Foreboding piano notes set the stage nicely for Pyo, whose expressive vocals and great range create one of the most impressive moments of the record. “Spain” starts patiently and ends energetically, it’s a fitting conclusion for a project full of lively playing and joyous melodies. Even though Choi may not be re-writing the book on large ensemble jazz, Tschüss Jazz Era is executed in such a skillful manner that it will leave listeners anticipating whatever the bandleader dedicates his talents to next.
Tschüss Jazz Era by Jungsu Choi Tiny Orkester is out now on Challenge Records.
Jungsu Choi – bandleader, composer, arranger, vocals (tracks 1, 3)
Eunmi Kim – flute
Minkyu Cha – alto sax
Sungil Bae – tenor sax
Yejung Kim – trumpet
Junyeon Lee – trombone
Sehwa Kang – cello
Sungyun Hong – guitar
Jungmin Lee – piano
Joseph Han – bass
Hyunsu Lee – drums
Jinho Pyo – vocals (tracks 3, 5)
Sehyun Baik – vocal (track 4)
Brian Kiwanuka is a writer‚ attorney and music nerd but not in that order. He digs Armand Hammer‚ Alice Coltrane and Stevie Wonder and occasionally subjects his friends to detailed rants about music. You can check out more of his writing on 93 Million Miles Above.