The music of pianist Bongwool Lee has a hopeful feeling. The Korean-born and now New York-based artist drew her first jazz inspiration - after classical studies in her homeland - from the work of Oscar Peterson, who sent much musical time walking on the sunny side of the street. But where Peterson rolled mostly in the jazz standards/Great American Songbook realm, Lee presents, on her debut recording, My Singing Fingers, a set of compelling original compositions. With one exception - the Ray Henderson-penned classic "Bye Bye Blackbird."
The "optimism" observation is drawn from the disc's title tune/opener. Lee shows off a crisp delicacy of touch here, and an accessible complexity of harmony and melody - a mixture of serenity and forward energy inside the deftly-applied and understated turbulence of her trio mates, drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Luques Curtis. "Sungshin Piano" has a similar calm combined with a lilting brightness, whereas "How's Up There?" takes the sound into the shadows, into varying shades of grey on this (perhaps) mournful rumination.
"Bye Bye Blackbird," the standard, is ever-familiar. Verve Records released a 45 RPM single take on the tune in 1957, by Oscar Peterson. Lee's version sparkles, in a fluid and relaxed way, gathering into a harmonic lushness. "Recurring Nightmare" turns things up to a frenetic level, a dream of being chased by something dangerous maybe, and "After The Black Dog" struts along at a jaunty, rollicking romp.
An auspicious debut, pointing toward a bright future.