Yuhan Su

City Animals

Taiwanese vibraphonist-composer Yuhan Su reflects on six years as a New York resident on her impressive third outing as a leader. As the lone harmonic instrument, her four-mallet approach allows Su to play pianistically alongside trumpeter Matt Holman, alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, bassist Petros Klampanis and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell on her 10 compositions. That quality becomes most evident in rich voicings on “Poncho Song” and the gorgeous ballad “Tutu & D” (for Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama).

The centerpiece here is the three-movement Kuafu suite, which opens with the peaceful meditation “I. Rising,” features LoRe’s warm, inviting tones and segues to fugue-like interaction between LoRe and Holman against Ellman-Bell’s driving rhythm. The second movement, “II. Starry, Starry Night,” opens calmly with Ellman-Bell’s gentle brushwork underscoring Su’s sparse conversation with Klampanis’ bass, before the piece settles into a melancholy theme, highlighted by Holman’s most lyrical playing of the set. The third movement—“III. Parallel Chasing”—features some frantic trading of eights among the three principal soloists.

Su favors a labyrinth of lines in her heady compositions, allowing for adventurous tempo and metric shifting, exploratory rubato segments, disciplined through-composed sections and plenty of room for blowing. LoRe and Holman share a potent chemistry on the front line. And as they navigate the currents of Su’s challenging pieces, the pair also engages in rapid-fire exchanges, contrapuntal motion and tight unisons on tricky heads for “Y El Coche Se Murió.” Each is a talent deserving of wider recognition, as is Su herself.