New York City can be like a jungle. With a menagerie of people intermingling in seemingly never ceasing action, the City has ecosystems within ecosystems. Vibraphonist/composer Yuhan Su has been inspired by her chaotic new home and her experiences with the individuals she has met there. Her new recording, City Animals, captures her enthusiasm for the craziness of the City and the adventures she has had since her arrival.
Originally from Taiwan, Su came to the States in 2008 to further her music studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she expanded her classical percussion knowledge to the world of jazz and improvisation. In 2012, Su moved to New York; she fell in love with the City and immediately immersed herself in the wilds of the jazz scene.
Su began to check out the local musicians in an effort to create her own ensemble. She started writing music for a quintet of trumpet, guitar, bass, vibes and drums, which was able to record an album and tour, including a visit to her native Taiwan. As her compositional style evolved, Su wished to both open the sound and to have more harmonic control of the group through her vibes. So she recruited saxophonist Alex LoRe to replace the guitar and join the tightly knit ensemble, which features trumpeter Matt Holman, bassist Petros Klampanis and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell.
Her decision to have the vibes as the only harmonic instrument freed up the group’s sound, enabling a stripping down to single voices or a wide harmonic spectrum. Su’s music continues to blend elements of modern jazz and contemporary classical into a texturally rich and dynamic fusion, while always maintaining a groove. Having wanted to be a novelist as a child, Su is a natural storyteller who uses words to remember feelings that will drive compositions inspired by experiences and stories that she has grown fond of.
The program begins with “Y El Coche Se Murió,” a dramatic piece that interprets Su’s nerves when her band’s van broke down en route to a gig in Spain, the van’s pace echoed by an insistent pulse that dies out leaving the musicians to their own devices. Echoing the optimism and wariness of the immigrant experience, “Viaje” is written in two parts, dark and disjointed leading to bright and optimistic. Su has had an increasing interest in dance, which led her to write “Feet Dance,” a bounding aural study of dancers’ feet as they move.
As a vibraphonist, Su is a harmonic instrument player, so pianists are obvious inspirations. “Poncho Song” captures her appreciation for the approach of piano legend Bill Evans. The title track is about the noisy yet grooving experience of living in New York, with the band dancing around the groove and rich harmony.
Su wrote the Kuafu Suite using the Chinese folk tale about a giant who chases the sun only to exhaust himself, try to revive himself by drinking a lake and, finally, dying with his goal unrealized, thus creating mountains and valleys. Seen by many as a warning of overestimating oneself, Su’s fascination with the story led to her romantic take of running towards your goals. Three parts, “I. Rising,” “II. Starry, Starry Night,” and “III. Parallel Chasing,” follow the giant’s journey in a wonderfully expressive musical narrative.
The beautiful ballad “Tutu & D” is inspired by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama’s The Book of Joy, which tells readers to find happiness, which for Su is finding beauty in music. The raucous “Party 2AM” looks to a more inebriated style of merriment, with the ensemble playing rambunctiously against one another.
Yuhan Su looks to find the joy in the hectic life she has chosen in the jungle that is New York City. Her City Animals is a deft and uplifting journey that will separate the young vibist from the herd.
released October 26, 2018
Yuhan Su - vibraphone
Matt Holman - trumpet, flugelhorn
Alex LoRe - alto saxophone
Petros Klampanis - bass
Nathan Ellman-Bell - drums
smooth yet frantic afro jazz with real contemporary drive. pushing the envelope, ridding of the clinical academic austerity but embracing the warm free spirit of ancestral jazz and bloodlines. Rebel Up SebCat