Two albums, both by vocalists, came to my attention after their release dates: Soyoung Park with Behind The Clouds on the SteepleChase LookOut label and Ellie Martin with Verdant, a twelve track album with all compositions by the artist.
Behind The Clouds features Yoonseung Cho at the piano, Changmin Jun on bass and drummer Jongkuk Kim (album tracklist can be found at the end of this post). Korean-born New York based jazz vocalist/pianist/composer Soyoung Park presents her debut album on SteepleChase. Park studied at Berklee College of Music. She then finished her Master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music. Park received Korean singer-songwriter title in Yoo Jaeha Music Award in 2007 and was named a top six finalist in 2016 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Voice competition. She was semi-finalist in 2016 Montreux Jazz Voice competition.
If the opening track of an album is a taster of what is to come then ‘Baker’s Mood’ (written by Park) sets a good marker. Classic jazz era in style with good piano work and some very nice bass lines. Park’s voice is light and breezy and she scats quite well too. The album’s title track is softer in delivery and more contemporary in style and makes good use of Park’s vocal range. ‘Three-Notes Samba’ is up tempo, bright and rather fun with enjoyable piano lines. So how does Park handle a jazz standard? ‘Skylark’ has a good arrangement and the interaction between voice and piano works well with strong rhythmic support from bass and drums.
‘Now Or Never’ brings us back to the jazz styling used in the opening track with a crisp drummed introduction. Park scats her way through this number with piano, bass, and drums layering the energy as the piece progresses – I enjoyed the vibrancy of this track ‘How I Know’ is a nicely paced ballad that reminded me of Kaz Simmons (Different Smile 2007). The pitch of Park’s vocal gives this tune a touch of innocent naivety that is quite touching. ‘Her Voice’ brings the album to a close and there is a real sense of emotional connection to the words sung. The piano playing reflects the tone set by the vocals making this a quite impressive piece of writing and musicianship.
Ellie Martin is currently the vocal jazz instructor at the University of Toledo, as well as Toledo School for the Arts. She has performed at the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival, the Sunset Jazz Festival, and the Michigan Jazz Festival. She was the featured vocalist with the National Arab Orchestra in San Antonio Texas, and she has performed alongside jazz luminaries Geri Allen, Terri Lynne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, the New York Voices, Jon Hendricks, and Afro Blue.
The band accompanying Ellie Martin comprises of: Peter Eldridge – piano, background vocals (10); Ariel Kasler – guitar (1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10,); Kurt Khranke – bass; Olman Piedra – drums, percussion; Keith Ganz – guitar; Victor Gonҫalves – accordion (3); Andrew Bishop – clarinet (1); Ben Wolkins – trumpet (7, 11) Mike Harrison – background vocals (2).
‘Living for the Now’ is a quick Samba with superb clarinet playing from Andrew Bishop and percussion from Olman Piedra: a very good opening number with a very enjoyable vocal from Ellie Martin. ‘As Time Goes’ is a vocal duet ballad with Mike Harrison whose voice blends very well with Martin’s. ‘Dancers Serenade’ begins as a slow ballad and develops in to a delightful Tango complete with accordionist Victor Gonҫalves, who gives this tune a real authentic feel. ‘Steel City Eye’ opens with the trumpet of Ben Wolkins on this swinging classic jazz era sounding number with excellent phrasing from Martin.
‘Lady Liberty’ has a strong political statement about the power of diversity and the strength of the nation through inclusivity. The tune features a very good guitar solo from Ariel Kalser and the vocal delivery is very strong in a R&B/Gospel style. ‘Step Into Your Essence’ continues that R&B feel, something I have noticed seems a popular thing to do for female vocalist, particularly those from America. Terrific solos from Keith Ganz on guitar and trumpeter Ben Wolkins with the piano of Peter Eldridge rounding out the sound. Verdant closes with ‘Moments’, another duet ballad only this one reflects on love left behind after the death of someone close. The lyrics are heartfelt and the instrumentation does them justice – just listen to the bass of Kurt Khranke both as a solo and in the backing: wonderful.
Verdant can be found on Bandcamp and is available to purchase as a digital download or physical CD.
Two vocalists two different styles and tones both working with very good musicians. I enjoyed both albums and each of them has plenty to recommend them. Ellie Martin’s vocal range is, to my ears, broader and warmer but Park’s lighter touch does, in some way, remind me of the playfulness of Blossom Dearie – a singer I do enjoy listening to. Both artists show off their compositional skills across different styles which makes for an interesting set list. Do I favour one album over another? Well that would very much depend on my mood but overall I think I would, if I had to, choose …
Behind The Clouds: 1. Baker’s Mood. 2. Behind The Clouds. 3. Three-Note Samba. 4. Like A Rainbow. 5 On The Ocean. 6. Skylark. 7. Now Or Never. 8. Moving Forward. 9. How I Know. 10. Her Voice.
Verdant: 1. Living for the Now. 2. As Time Goes. 3. Dancers Serenade. 4. Never Will I Worry. 5. Love Somehow Will Heal. 6. Renewal. 7. Steel Eye City. 8. Verdant. 9. Lucianita. 10. Lady Liberty. 11. Step Into Your Essence. 12. Moments.