We know “curious” as being eager to learn or know something, but the less well-known definition is unusual, rare, unexpected.
The inventive jazz pianist and composer Jinjoo Yoo is both of these things, qualities sweetly embodied in her debut CD, I AM CURIOUS, a trio session with Neal Miner and Jimmy Wormworth on Gut String Records. And if you think you’ve heard and seen her before, you are correct: I wrote admiringly of her at the end of February 2018 here.
The disc offers six of Jinjoo’s originals, and although I ordinarily view “originals” with some trepidation, I welcomed hers and wish that a full-scale CD is coming soon.
Her music is unhackneyed, melodic, welcoming. She spins out long graceful lines that aren’t four-bar modules copied from other pianists. She has her own voice, or I should say, “voices.” The performances often begin with a simple melodic motif set over a clear, swinging rhythmic foundation . . . and they transparently show off her curiosity.
I can hear her asking of the music, “Notes, chords, where will you take me?” And the results are gently playful, as if she were turning over brightly-colored bits of melody and harmony in the sunlight to see what reflections they cast on the while wall. She can be tender, ruminative, but she can also create vivid joyous dances: songs that call out for lyrics.
Her playing is spare but I never felt it to be sparse, the sonic equivalent of a large room with one canvas chair against the wall. No, her single notes seem just right — percussive commentary when needed, lyrical otherwise, and her harmonies are lovely, neither formulaic nor jarring. Her voicings are subtle but right: the listener isn’t overpowered by force or volume, but welcomed in. And she works wonderfully with the stellar members of this trio. It’s music that will deeply reward those steeped in the modern piano tradition, but music one could play for someone outside the circle who would find it refreshing. It’s clear that she has steeped herself in the jazz tradition — reaching far and wide to include bebop, Jimmy Rowles, Ellington, Monk, and American popular song at its best — but she is herself. And she has an essential sense of humor: even her most pensive moments have an airy quality.
The titles are: BLULLABY, DIZZY BLOSSOM, I’M CURIOUS, AND I CALL IT HOME, TO BARRY WITH LOVE, BLULLABY (alternate take).
Jinjoo writes, “I owe my inspiration to the blue morning light sneaking in through my window (Track 1, 6), A bird singing, and flower petals floating in the air during springtime (Track 2), Fantasies created by desire and curiosity (Track 3), Teymur Hajiyev’s film about the reality of life in the slums of Azerbaijan <Shanghai, Baku> (Track 4), My hero, my teacher, the one and only Barry Harris (Track 5).”
I predict a bright future for this sensitive, intuitive artist — both as pianist and composer. You can learn more about I’M CURIOUS and other Gut String Records releases here. I encourage you to do so: these CDs don’t always get the press barrage their contents deserve, but they are rewarding in music and sound.
Here’s Neal’s video of BLULLABY, from the recording session:
and TO BARRY, WITH LOVE:
Welcome, Ms. Yoo! Consider yourself invited to stay. And thank you.
May your happiness increase!