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Review of Imagination:, June 10, 2008

Review of Imagination:

Review of 4inObjects: All About Jazz, Los Angeles, April 2006
Yeah-Yeah Records
by Rex Butters
The New York based jazz collective 4inObjects finally lets everyone in on the buzz with the release of their self-titled collection. The risky quintet features the writing and vocal talents of Yoon Sun Choi, a singer of considerable range and a lyricist/composer mapping new territory while remaining rooted in accessible and memorable melodic structure. All members have interacted for nearly 10 years, and a Choi and Jacob Sacks duo project has already been released. As with many bands of startling originality, their performances of new material impresses, but their covers demonstrate the breathtaking uniqueness of their vision. Both Radiohead’s “Airbag” and the Bacharach warhorse “Close to You” enter territory undreamt by their respective composers and subsequent interpreters. While each musician has much to say, their shared appreciation of understatement generates the dynamic tension. On Choi’s “Back to You,” David Ambrosio’s simple bass and Dan Weiss’ high hat hiss hit like the first sprinkle of a coming storm. Jacob Garchik’s trombone moans low over the taut rhythm intro anticipating Choi. Her vivid imagery crisply enunciated builds quick intensity even as Sacks dabs color with minimalist piano accents. Choi scats in duet with Garchik, taking flight over the now fully engaged rhythm section. The first of the covers, Radiohead’s “Airbag,” appears deconstructed, just hints from Sacks and wordless improv from Choi. Weiss clicks his sticks, Ambrosio explores, then Choi’s reading of the dreamy lyric focuses the instrumentalists. Her improvisational liberties with phrases and ornamental vocalizing, along with similar tendencies throughout the ensemble remakes the piece in the best jazz sense. “Close to You” taps into the unexplored dark longings at the heart of the song, beginning with Sacks’ ominous variations stating the theme. By the time Choi’s voice slides in on Ambrosio’s bass string, it’s a sunbeam piercing a dark cloud. The Choi/Sacks “Sorry” gracefully works some unusual intervals, with Garchik’s muted trombone taking the long way home. Choi’s freewheeling scat decorates the easy funk of her “Tunnel Mountain Drive.” Sacks snatches at chords in accompaniment, Garchik trades phrases with Choi, and Ambrosio stretches and bends like a rubber man. This auspicious debut recorded live three years ago demands an updated session release. Young musicians all, 4inObjects promise domestic pleasures for years to come.

Review of 4inObjects: All About Jazz, March 4, 2006
By Ty Cumbie

Yeah Yeah

4inObjects’ debut recording introduces a full-bodied new voice in jazz singing, backed up by a superb band studded with some of the most talented players to be found anywhere.

Yoon Sun Choi’s singing is strong and direct. She has good control and intonation and handles subtleties with an unfussy assuredness. She doesn’t whisper much, but neither does she overdo the bluster—though she can belt, especially when the band gets up to full volume. In concert the diminutive singer sheds vanity, contorting her face in whatever way she needs to get the sound she wants. Her lyrics are intimate and poetic—in a good way.

The first-rate band features at least two of the most promising younger exponents of New York’s amazingly vital jazz scene: pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Dave Ambrosio, not to pass over the fine work of Jacob Garchik on trombone and Dan Weiss on drums. In addition to her vocal talents, Choi knows a good musician when she hears one—or four, as it were. The music ranges from vamp-based originals to an inspired rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You”. 4inObjects is a regular at 55Bar, so go on, catch them live.

Andrey Henkin Reviews the Yoon Choi-Jacob Sacks Duo

A temperate early Saturday evening was spent at the unpretentious 5C Cafe, away from the bustle of the city’s “traditional” jazz venues. Appearing May 8th was the duo of vocalist Yoon Choi and pianist Jacob Sacks (the no horns or drums policy has still not kept this laudable venue from coming under attack by the City) presenting material by composer Joe Raposo. The name might not be familiar but the works, written for Sesame Street and The Muppets, has a timeless appeal. Jazz gets its inspiration from many places, why not simple graceful melodies for children? Choi and Sacks are not the typical duo; Choi effortlessly mixes traditional jazz vocals with a sultrier approach or the gymnastics of the avant garde. Sacks never plays the straight man, abstracting the melodies enough to keep each turn interesting. Contrary to normal course, Choi relies on Sacks’ percolations as much as Sacks follows Choi’s lead. “Bein’ Green” was sad and winsome. “J-Jump” and “La La La”, two songs about letters, gave Choi the opportunity to stretch her delivery. Ernie’s “Imagination” was the heartfelt ballad of the set, followed by a rambunctious “Happiness Hotel”. The closing “Sing”, popularized by Peggy Lee, saw Choi begin with a tongue-in-cheek attempt to sing out of tune before resolving into a lovely reading.

Québécité: Jazz Opera Makes Waves: Ontarion (volume 142 issue 2)

by Liz Stewart

Last Friday at the River Run Centre, Guelph’s internationally renowned jazz festival added another sparkling jewel to its crown.

A packed house gathered to witness Québécité, a progressive jazz opera specially commissioned to celebrate the festival’s tenth anniversary.

Composed by Canadian pianist D.D. Jackson with words by poet George Elliot Clarke, the production follows the lives of two interracial couples living in Montreal.

The giant fleur de lis illuminating the stage prior to the performance left no doubt in the audience’s mind as to the subject matter of the production. However, Québécité provides a fresh perspective on the centuries old French/English conflict. Through the trying experiences of two young couples, another more complicated voice enters the debate. Rollicking piano, spirited trumpet and often haunting cello propel and inflame the passionate and tension-riddled love affairs. Laxmi, an Indian student architect, laments the impurity of her playboy Haitian boyfriend Ovide. Meanwhile Collette, a Chinese law student, is dating the jazz saxophonist employed by her parents at their bar La Revolution Tranquille. Her relationship with Malcolm, an ‘Africadian” sparks controversy and strife within her family.

Beyond this drama, the jazz opera itself is a chaotic mixing of style and form. Languages intermingle freely, with both good and bad results. Discordant duets that mixed the traditional Punjabi tones of Laxmi with the jazzy stylings of Ovide made an important social and artistic statement. However, they weren’t necessarily pleasing to the ear. Overall, the songs between Collette and Malcolm provided the best moments of the evening. The strength and clarity of their voices was astonishing, even chilling.

Adding to this already complicated production were scores of dancers who performed at essentially every point of the performance. Although their presence was often puzzling and occasionally superfluous, there were several times in which they succeeded at conveying the emotions of the piece at an even deeper level.

Without a doubt, the most disappointing part of Québécité was its simplistic ending. The piece finished with the characters married and singing of a more accepting and peaceful future while a giant Quebec flag swayed behind them. It was an unexpected and slightly disappointing end to a production that seemed to root itself in incredibly progressive ideas and forms.

In truth, this production was an impressive undertaking. Its marriage of styles and forms succeeded as a shining example of true multiculturalism. In reality, this production actually practiced the cultural acceptance that so many others have only preached.

Jazz Opera A Grand Performance
Guelph Mercury
(Arts and leisure, Saturday, September 6, 2003 p. C1)


GUELPH. A beaming George Elliot Clarke pretty much nailed it. “They did a grand, grand, grand job,” may not be his best poetic turn of phrase, but it captured the moment. “They” were the cast of Québécité, and Elliot was responding to a press of well-wishers offering congratulations as they filed out of the River run Centre’s du Maurier Theatre.

The jazz opera Québécité, composed by pianist D.D. Jackson with a libretto by Clarke, was commissioned as the centrepiece performance of the 10th annual Guelph Jazz Festival. To call it an ambitious undertaking would not come close to doing it justice.

It is the story of four young Canadians in modern Quebec City. Laxmi Bharanti (Kiran Ahluwalia) is a student of architecture. She is pursued by an insistent Ovide Rimbaud (Haydain Neale), a slightly older practising architect. Their discussion of the meaning and importance of love moves from Quebec’s streets to the jazz nightclub La Revolution Tranquille.

The club is owned by the parents of law student Colette Chan (Yoon Sun Choi) and employs Nova Scotian saxophonist Malcolm States (Dean Bowman). Chan and States fall in love.

The cultural bridges that separate the principals; Bharanti is Indian, Rimbaud Haitian, Chan Chinese and States “Africadian” are erected in a city where the politics of identity is everything. Québécité is the story of different solitudes than the Anglo-Saxon and French around which such politics are most commonly defined. Bharanti and Rimbaud are driven apart by their different conceptions of love. Chan’s parents are adamantly opposed to her relationship with States and he rejects the whole family.

Ultimately love triumphs, the couples are reunited and marriage vows are exchanged.

To be honest, I was prepared to be disappointed. I know the jazz festival organizers are capable of extraordinary programming feats, and the composer, librettist and cast are all possessed of formidable talents. But this was a major project, grandly conceived, unabashed in its political message. The possibilities for getting it wrong were everywhere, and it could easily have crossed the line into shrillness, pedantry or cliché. Jazz, being what it is, can also tempt even the most capable creative talent to excess in pursuit of something new and interesting.

Such concerns were unwarranted.

The evening got off to a bit of a dicey start when the sound system made loud noises and cut out during Neale?s and Ahluwalia’s opening scene. Ahluwalia seemed nervous to start with and the glitches could not have helped. They soldiered on, and if she had been suffering a bout of nerves, Ahluwalia warmed up soon enough.

There were great individual performances from all of the principals. The interaction between Choi and Bowman was more smooth that that of Neale and Ahluwalia, but there were compelling sweet and bitter moments between both couples.

Choi delivered one of the more powerful scenes in an outpouring of musical anxiety and anguish as she sorted through her feelings for States in her parents’ bar. The extraordinary quality of Bowman’s voice was in evidence in his solos but worked beautifully with Chan’s [sic. should be “Choi”] distinctive instrument in some very potent exchanges. The sweetness of some of Haydain Neale’s solo work was cheered warmly.

Jackson assembled a backing band that would have been worth the price of the ticket on their own. Peggy Lee on cello, Brad Turner on trumpet, John Geggie on double bass and Jean Martin on drums combined with Jackson’s glorious piano work to produce dynamite backing that managed, for the most part, to work with the vocalists without overwhelming.

Not everything worked perfectly. The operatic performance was augmented by dancers who were often strong complements to the performance but sometimes seemed a bit out of place. The sentimentality of the ending would not be to everyone’s taste.

On the whole however, it was the elements that defied expectation and worked well that dominated. Among these, it was the infusion of the jazz performance with Ahluwalia’s South Asian musical stylings that walked the most precarious line. In the end it succeeded wonderfully.

In the programme director Colin Taylor offered an expression of gratitude to the festival that is worth repeating. “On behalf of the entire company of Québécité, I’d like to extend an embrace of gratitude to Artistic Director Ajay Heble and the Board, Staff and Volunteers of the Guelph Jazz Festival for inspirational vision and artistic courage.”

Courage is definitely something with which the staging of Québécité was amply endowed. Not many festival anywhere would attempt something as challenging as this Québécité, and very few if any operating on the Guelph Jazz Festival’s budget.

There was at time, of course, when original operas were staged with regularity in Guelph. Operatic artistry is the foundation on which the Spring Festival was founded. But those were simpler times and it has been a long while since such a thing has been attempted.

Such a hearkening to the city’s musical history was an apt project to celebrate ten years of the Jazz Festival in Guelph. That is has succeeded so admirably raises the question of when it might be attempted again.

Yoon Choi: One of the Vocal Ones
The Toronto Star, Sept. 19th, 2002

You might remember “Yooni” Choi singing standards or performing in the jazz-pop group The Source at venues like The Rex a while ago.

But when the Yoon Choi Quartet takes the Senator stage tonight (through Sunday) backed by a trio of New Yorkers (pianist Jacob Sacks, bass David Ambrosio and drummer Dan Weiss), the sound will be somewhat different.

Choi has spent the last 18 months in the Big Apple, immersing herself in the avant-garde and new-music scene, so along with modern standards and a jazz anthem or two there’ll be a ton of original music and jazz vocalese.

Yoon, born in Korea, rasied in Whitby and a graduate in classical piano and piano from Queen’s University, sang in the a capella jazz choir Voice Deco a decade ago but moved swiftly to study at Berklee, ultimately graduating from the U of T in vocal jazz in 1997.

[ . . . ]

“In New York I have involved myself in the avant garde, with groups like 4inObjects (with Sacks, Ambrosio and a trombonist) which believes in very free improvising and spontaneous music. We3 have all studied the foundations of jazz but we want to make what I call modern standards, music based on tunes written during the last 20 years.

“The source could be Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, Bjork, folk tunes, even country or themes by classical composers like Dvorak. For example, the melody ‘Going Home’ from his New World Symphony. We reharmonize music and we never sound the same. The melodies may be simple but we treat them as, say, (jazz sax pioneer) Ornette Coleman did.”

Choi says that she’d always felt in her heart she was not a traditional singer, and cites Betty Carter, Norma Winstone and (Canadian-born trumpeter) Kenny Wheeler as particular inspirations. She and Sacks are about to release a duo recording of original music, Soulmates on the Yeah Yeah label. On it her songs intrigue, her tones are pure and pleasing, her vocalese heady.

Review of Soulmates in the Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, September 28th, 2002
Soulmates – 4 stars
Peter Hum

With its staggering range of moods and celebration of an intimate rapport, the debut disk from singer Yoon Choi is one of the more welcome surprises in jazz this fall.

On Soulmates, Choi, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s music program, performs duets with Brooklyn-based Jacob Sacks, a pianist whose maturity and original streat belie the fact that he’s just 25.

The disk’s 10 tracks, composed by Choi or Sacks, are dizzyingly diverse. The CD opens with rubato ballad In Your Eyes, which introduces Choi’s deep, rich voice. The wordless, gospel-tinged Tunnel Mountain Drive shows off her surprisingly earthy scatting. On the wry, freebopping Milhouse, Choi sounds at times like she’s auditioning for a cartoon voice-over job. Throughout, she’s an assured, maverick musical spirit whose risk-taking pays off.

New York @ Night: June 2002
By David R. Adler
Sangha I, Sangha II

Drummer Rob Garcia released a strong debut record last year called Place of Resonance (CAP), and he’’s been busy with good sideman gigs, like Sam Newsome’’s Global Unity. At Cornelia Street Cafe he premiered a new project called Sangha (as in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), featuring Newsome, Michel Gentile on flute, Russ Lossing on piano, Kenny Wessel on guitar, Dave Ambrosio on bass, and Yooni Choi on vocals. Tucked within Garcia’s complex line writing and tight ensemble passages is a kind of pop/groove sensibility. Choi, in particular, brought it out, belting the group’s title song and giving a bit of R&B growl on another, untitled one. (I was singing back some of this stuff a week later.) Garcia’’s ability to sustain interest over a long form was clear on “Just Do It,” even more so on his “Burning Heart Suite”; his melodic powers were at their peak on a beautiful adaptation of a poem by the Sufi poet Hafiz. Lossing and Newsome were the monster soloists of the set, and with this many musicians on stage, Garcia was smart in setting limits,— one or two solos per tune. These weren’t simply blowing vehicles, after all.

Yoon Sun Choi & Jacob Sacks, Soulmates
This Review originally appeared in Cadence Magazine.

After all the kvetching about Norah Jones and whether she is or she isn’t a Jazz singer, it’s nice to hear a CD featuring a young female singer who is the real thing. Vocalist Yoon Sun Choi and musical partner Jacob Sacks have fashioned a haunting set that evokes – without imitating – the work of Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake. The songs are neatly perched between American noir and art song. Each is the work of either Choi or Sacks, with Choi contributing six songs, including “In Your Eyes” which bookends the session. Her words are not really lyrics, and, with the exception of “Serenade,” aren’t poetry. Rather they sound more like journal excerpts. Plain spoken and personal, and deadly if not handled right, Choi and Sacks don’t belabor the words. Instead they use them to establish the emotional context that they then develop in subtle shades. “Serenade” explores the image of a woman swimming in the lake of her own sadness. She moves back and forth from verses of poetry to wordless song. Choi possesses a fine alto. On “Kairos” she opens with a high keening lament and ends in her husky lowest register. Sacks is a model of sensitivity. His playing is pruned of cliche, dedicated instead to finding the right cluster or dissonance to allow the music to resonate. His compositions offer a contrast to the singer’s. Especially fetching is the warped Bebop tune “Milhouse.” The stately “Walker Evans” is another winner. This session is full of promise, but, more than that, it is full of accomplishment. — David Dupont.

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