Helen Sung


All throughout Quartet+, there is a clarity in Helen Sung’s role as a bandleader. Whether it be through her own compositions or those of Marian McPartland, Geri Allen or Carla Bley, Sung is directing her musical vision in what she’s looking for with her group alongside the Harlem Quintet as that added element that is the plus sign in the album’s title. She couldn’t be any clearer there, either.

The sweet sailing of her take on Mary Lou Williams’ “Mary’s Waltz” is a highlight — David Wong’s bass gripping in his solo, but it’s the Harlem Quartet’s carrying the tune to a soft landing that really turns heads. Sung’s own “Time Loops” jaunts and sprints as if it were telling the tales of America Aaron Copeland hadn’t pondered. John Ellis is peppy and ebullient. Kendrick Scott is his usual explosive self, particularly at the close of this tune. “Wrong Key Donkey” is a jangly delight and sounded like it was as fun to make it through all of Sung’s tricky songwriting as it is to hear.

In Helen Sung’s venture of melding a classical string quartet with her jazz quartet, she finds exactly the balance she sought: the perfect lively combination of the improvisational form with the structure of the strings to find a different sort of dynamism. Of course, this kind of combination isn’t anything new with this sort of instrumentation, but Sung finds a way in her collection of compositions, both her own originals and those of other female composers she’s celebrating. It all so clearly works together.

On Sale Now
December 2022
Kenny Barron
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