Jazz with CJ Shearn: Extended review. A deeper look at Connie Han: Crime Zone (Mack Avenue, 2018)

"Pianist Connie Han helps revitalize something that jazz aficionados have been into for a while, but for a fresh generation she makes something new that has been defining the jazz language for several decades. If anything, she breathes new life into the Young Lions phenomenon that was jazz’s hallmark in the 80’s and 90’s. A bit of background: in 1976 Herbie Hancock played a career retrospective concert at the Newport Jazz Festival where he had played in contexts he hadn’t in years. At the time, Hancock was knee deep in his forays into funk and disco, and although he never abandoned the acoustic piano during that entire period, his forays into straight ahead jazz were not as plentiful. At this concert Hancock reunited with his band mates from the Miles Davis Quintet: saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter, and Tony Williams on drums with Freddie Hubbard replacing the retired Davis on trumpet. The concert and the resultant album, the two LP V.S.O.P. (Columbia, 1976) lead the jazz media to make the bizarre declaration (with hindsight) that acoustic jazz had returned. Acoustic jazz had never died, it just became less popular amidst the countless jazz-rock and jazz-funk classics from artists like Hancock, Chick Corea, Return to Forever, Billy Cobham and Weather Report that were being churned out at a rapid pace. Labels such as ECM were recording cutting edge acoustic music, and labels such as Xanadu, Pablo and Concord catered to mainstream jazz lovers that cherished hard swinging music. Woody Shaw was recording some of his strongest music at Columbia, and Dexter Gordon experienced a mid career renaissance in the United States.

Han’s Mack Avenue debut Crime Zone featuring the astonishing Los Angeles born 22 year old pianist stylistically comes from the period described above, and the “young lions” era of jazz that defined the 80’s and 90’s. The Young Lions movement was a heavily marketed, major label driven focus on acoustic jazz marked sentiment that young black musicians were eager to get back to the sound prevalent before the stylistic and technological advances that characterized the growth of jazz in the 70’s. The poster children were trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and saxophonist brother Branford who had grown up in New Orleans and logged time as members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and through their own quintet developed a very specific dialect rooted in the Miles Davis Quintet of 1963-68 but with particular musical details that could have only happened after the 70’s as pianist Ethan Iverson noted in his article The J Word. The Marsalis group developed a telepathic rapport within the rhythm section of the late Kenny Kirkland on piano, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts where carefully calculated metric shifts would occur on a dime on the classic Black Codes From The Underground (Columbia, 1985) with unusual twists, such as a single measure of ¾ on “Delfeayo’s Dilemma”. They would develop a language versed in these devices and also in a style of tune called “burnout” rooted in mid 60’s John Coltrane that explored tonality and metric shifts to the breaking point. This language would influence contemporaries such as Kenny Garrett, Mulgrew Miller, Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney and Terence Blanchard, and would extend to the next generation including Joshua Redman, Christian McBride and the late Roy Hargrove.

The pianist extends this narrative on Crime Zone featuring longtime Blanchard associate Walter Smith III guesting on tenor saxophone for several selections alongside her working trio of bassist Edwin Livingston, and drummer/co writer/producer Bill Wysaske. She also embodies a prodigious explosive quality that announced several pianists to the scene in the last two decades like Eldar Djangirov, Hiromi Uehara and most recently this decade, teenage phenom Joey Alexander. All of these pianists displayed the influences of Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett, but Han adds an additional wrinkle: while her storming left hand suggests Tyner in the use of quartal harmony, she draws heavily on the influences of the late Kenny Kirkland and perhaps the most imitated pianist of the 80’s and 90’s in mainstream jazz, the late Mulgrew Miller. In the narrow, linear historical narrative of jazz, the contributions of these men are valued heavily amongst their peers as adding to the the language of jazz piano, but historically are not weighed as heavily vs. those of Hines, Garner, Powell, Tyner, Hancock, Corea or Jarrett. Han combines these off the beaten path influences into an intriguing whole. "

Read the full review here.

Medium: Crime Zone Review

“Connie Han’s Mack Avenue Records debut comes on like a wrecking ball, leaving the listener wrecked — in a good way.

Crime Zone is a lusty, liberating post-bop-to-modern-jazz album, featuring the L.A.-pianist, 22, at her best, along with mentor, producer, musical director, and drummer Bill Wysaske, and bassist Edwin Livingston. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and trumpeter Brian Swartz more than meet the standards, ramping up the hard-hitting music with their own larger-than-life, dizzying personalities.

When I first listened to Han’s Crime Zone, sight unseen, I couldn’t tell if she played piano or sax. In fact, I initially mistook the album as a saxophone showcase. What it is, is an atypical jazz showcase, demanded and expected at every late-night jam session around every hip urban town, where everyone in the band takes turns in the spotlight — and never wants to leave.

Han’s well-trained musical background — her parents are classical musicians who instilled a love of music early — seeps into every track, original or cover, honoring the hard-hitting jazz icons of the past (Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson) and introducing a few new steps along the way.

Every track is fully realized, a complete concert in and of itself. It’s like sitting in on the best jam session in the world after a three-day festival blowout, with all the big names showing the newbies the score… Only, the big names are really coming out of one fantastic young jazz artist hungry to make her mark.

Han lays claim and lays waste to every single tune on her Oct. 12 release, whether she’s coming out sideways, inside-out, or straight on. Even the ballads contain rhythmic percussive quirks, borrowing from the wide-open manipulation of free jazz’s use of time and space, bordering on exquisite torture…as the listener is dying for the next series of unexpected, crackling turns.”

Read the rest of the review at www.medium.com.

HIGHRESAUDIO.com Album Review: Crime Zone

“Crime Zone Mack Avenue turns out to be an extremely varied tour through the lucid jazz world of a very young pianist, who is able to convince with her independent playing style and great creative power. It will be interesting to see where her career will lead Connie Han in view of her early championship. She modestly sees herself as part of the current jazz scene and advocate of the traditional jazz:

‘As a new artist, I want to show that it is possible to create infinite fresh ideas without having to deconstruct the building blocks of the jazz language. To me, that language is universal.’”

View the full review here.

DownBeat Magazine Interview: Connie Han

“I think there are infinite creative possibilities within the jazz tradition. Frankly, I wish I had more than one lifetime to explore all of it, and I think there are just so many different things you can say, because uniquely, you’re you. What you say is yours. So, I don’t really have a hard time balancing all that, because I think that jazz in itself is already individualistic and unique to the artist.”

View the full interview here.

All About Jazz: CRIME ZONE Review by Chris Mosey

“Connie Han, dressed in skin-tight leather, tosses back her long and lustrous black hair, then walks like a prowling cat to the piano. She sits down, doesn't smile, looks darkly at the keyboard. She pauses then starts playing a percussive riff. Lights! The band emerges from the shadows and falls in behind her. 

Han, aged 22, from Los Angeles, has been playing piano and dreaming of this moment since she was five years old. "Another Kind of Right," the first number on Crime Zone, is a tune she wrote with Freddie Hubbard's "One of Another Kind" in mind. It's tough and provocative, just her style. She says, "The bridge is a swaggering Freddie Hubbard style of playing. Bill Wysaske (her drummer and general musical guru) arranged and curated a lot of what goes on here. It was his idea to make the transition from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes for my solo. It gives the music a breath of fresh air. The song is definitely inspired by that post-bop, pre-fusion sound straight out of the late '60s and early '70s." Han knows where she's coming from and where she's going. With this album she's booking a place as a star in the jazz firmament of tomorrow.”

“Watch out for Connie Han, the face (and shape) of jazz to come.”

View the rest of the review here. “

All About Jazz Performance Review: Connie Han Trio at Smoke Jazz Club on October 4th, 2018

“Combustible is the first word that sprung to mind as pianist Connie Han opened her first set by spring loading her wily rhythm-mates, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer/musical director Bill Wysaske through a twisty, bop energy homage to Freddie Hubbard, which, as she explained in her opening intros, she had recently composed.

After some humorous banter concerning her soon to be released debut Crime Zone on 
Mack Avenue Records, she embarked confidently into one of the tunes from it. "Gruvy" settled quickly into its groovy salsa swing. Her hands kin to the keyboard, roaming purposely across the landscape. Livingston proved himself an expressive soloist as Wysaske held center and Han vibrantly accentuated and punctuated both solo and groove. "The End of a Love Affair" featuring a crisply played solo from Han, was a tough, swinging salute to Brill Street and served as a spunky notice that Han clearly knows where the music comes from and how she can bend it to her will. "Crime Zone" with its punchy back and forth between bass and piano, sprung instantly to life.”

View the rest of the article here.