Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Album Review: Jeong Lim Yang - Zodiac Suite: Reassured

Jeong Lim Yang
Zodiac Suite: Reassured 
*** out of *****

Back in 1942 the musician/composer/arranger/bandleader Mary Lou Williams started recording what would be known as the Zodiac Suite. It would take her over three years to complete the twelve songs and now Jeong Lim Yang has released this re-imaging of those pieces from one session. Recorded in Brooklyn, NY on May 16th, 2021, bassist Yang along with Santiago Leibson (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) expand and stretch Williams original pieces in a more contemporary jazz fashion. 

The group elongates each of the originals (all are at least double in length), while giving their own spin on Williams theme's. An example off the bat is "Aries" whose original is jaunty minute of frolicking, before turning more contemplative and sullen, resulting in a ominous climatic finish. The trio here use that piece as inspiration but their "Aries" starts harsher with bass and drum and wanders without focus. The piano drops in the original lines at times, but the track never gets as deep or dramatic as the original, even with tripling the run time. 

That is not to say the modern trio have nothing to offer, the majority of the tracks are vibrant. Opener "Pieces" as well as the bombastic to weepy "Capricorn" and the expertly chaotic "Sagittarius" all mix straight ahead playing with excellent free form experimentation. The strong drumming of Cleaver stands out on the muscular "Taurus" and rumbling "Leo" while the slow burning "Cancer" is smoldering jazz blues with an avant-garde edge. 

The group gets upbeat and loose with the catchy version of "Gemini" foregoing the duality for a bright passage, while the contemplative "Virgo" sashays along (for the most part) in classic jazz style. "Libra" is a slow ballad, with a focus on the great bass playing of Yang before the dynamic "Aquarius" ends the suite in style with more straight ahead/free form pairing. The trio are not finished though as the Yang's original "Madam, Thank You, Madam" is a more sparse finale than the signs preceding it, but clearly influenced by, and dedicated to Williams.    

The trio have made clear this is no direct tribute but more of an 'inspired by' effort and while unique and expressive, the most fun seems to perk up when the original lines run through the groups more free form playing. Jeong Lim Yang's Zodiac Suite: Reassured brings Williams excellent compositions into the modern age with a unique spin on things, allowing for reinvention and rediscovery of the original. 

Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video:

And this wraps up RtBE's Jazzy January.  Until next winter....

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