Sunday, August 29, 2010
Helen Sung- Going Express - Sunnyside SSC 1263
A prominent bassist once confided to me that he had on-going problems getting a record date as a leader. And when the occasion did arrive, he hired top flight cats recorded the session in record time and released it on his on indie label. Much to his dismay record distributors and a handful of club owners told him the same thing - "You got a band full of sidemen"!
He said that it became a running joke. A band full of sidemen.
Here he was an experienced bassist and he had some of the best jazz guys around and couldn't catch a 'cold' as they say! Such is the similar fate of many jazz musicians. From the well known to those who labor in the vineyards for years, sometimes decades in relative obscurity. In fact, there seems to be a circuit, a thriving one of 'sidemen' who operate just under the radar. They work the neighborhood clubs and taverns, some art houses and outdoor festivals but never seem to grasp the brass ring or nail down the big contract. Was it Mingus who deemed them 'beneath the underdog'?
That's where labels such as Sunnyside and others with vision come into play. Yet exposing newer and 'forgotten', 'overlooked' and 'maligned' talent can be a tricky thing in this business. Who will be the next, 'big star', the next Joe Lovano or Wynton Marsalis? And much to it's credit Sunnyside has gone the distance in exposing such here-to-fore talent deserving wider recognition. It could be a 'hit or miss' proposition.
One of their new talents pianist Helen Sung offers up a 'live' quartet session. Of the music documented one could ask if this was the best of what was recorded? If so then this is no more than a run-of-the-mill date that is quite the forgettable proverbial session of 'all sidemen'. Sung, an able but stiff handed, non swinging keyboardist chooses the right guys in Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Eric Harland, drums and Seamus Blake, reeds. Well, sort of. Plaxico is rudimentary and has always seemed the pop/smooth jazz bassist. He's got no thump in his bump. Eric Harland is indistinguishable from the other Eric. Eric McPherson. In fact, aren't they the same guy? And Blake I couldn't pick his tenor and soprano sax work out of a line-up of Tommy Smith to Ralph Bowen. Just has no identifiable sound and gives up school taught lick after lick after lick.
If this sounds disparaging there is no cause for alarm for I'm sure Ms.Sung will probably have much success in the world of academia, where there is a need to teach jazz. But right now she's hardly ready for prime time. Being a 'sideman' can be tough.
L.A. Emenari, III