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On her second release, the dynamic Crime Zone, Los Angeles-based pianist Connie Han exhibits a refreshing inventiveness that belies her youth. The 22-year-old started her professional career at the age of 17 and has excelled as both a pianist and a composer. The current album superbly demonstrates all aspects of her talent.
Han interprets saxophonist Joe Henderson’s “A Shade of Jade” unaccompanied. Her left hand’s percussive refrains complement her right hand’s eloquent, agile, spontaneous lines. The result is a virtuosic piece that maintains the spirit of the original but with Han’s personal, modernist touch.
Similarly, Han’s own “Another Kind of Right” draws inspiration from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “One of Another Kind.” Han switches to Rhodes keyboards and embellishes the main theme with a soulful, muscular improvisation as bass and drums percolate behind her. Trumpeter Brian Swartz blows burnished tones with expressive passion and saxophonist Walter Smith III plays simmering phrases with graceful elegance.
The gripping intensity of the music peaks with the fiery “Southern Rebellion.” Han showcases her energetic pianism on this thrillingly fast and breathtakingly lithe performance. Drummer Bill Wysaske, Han’s mentor, takes center stage with thundering polyrhythms that highlight not only his alacrity and adroitness but also his unique angular style.
The album closes with yet another captivating tune. On “Extended Stay,” the trio once again demonstrates its delightful cohesiveness. Han lets loose a cascade of dense, resonant chords while Wysaske’s kit rumbles and versatile bassist Edwin Livingston solos with lyricism and swagger.
Han has been labeled a rising star and rightfully so — she’s an intriguing artist with mastery over her instrument as well as a deft bandleader. Given the maturity and brilliance she demonstrates on Crime Zone, perhaps “rising” could be dropped from that designation.— Hrayr Attarian
Feature photo by Raj Naik