For his debut recording, “Longing”, Korean vocalist Hyeonseon Baek has combined his love for contemporary pop and progressive jazz to create arresting versions of jazz standards and original compositions. While the timbre of his voice is eerily reminiscent of Chet Baker, Baek’s interpretations reveal far more flexibility than the late trumpeter ever imagined. Working with some of the most creative musicians in New York, including saxophonist Lucas Pino, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Joechen Rueckert, Baek winds his voice like an elastic band around the melody of “Caravan”, but displays precise note placement on “Black Narcissus”, “The Peacocks”, and his bop original “West Fourth Street”. Baek is also an imaginative scat singer, discovering fresh ways to approach the changes while still landing on the important chord tones. His English skills are quite good, but an occasional odd pronunciation turns up, especially in the ballads “Lush Life” and “Peace”. However, the strength of his interpretations outweighs the minor language issues. At 33 years old, he has sufficient maturity to bring depth to his original ballads, and both “Longing” and “My Temptation” are impressive starting points for an extended career in song composition. Young jazz singers are usually referred to as “diamonds in the rough”, but Hyeonseon Baek is quite close to being a fully polished performer. THOMAS CUNNIFFE


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