All About Jazz reviews (Un)seaworthy
"...Kevin Sun is well on his way toward staking a major claim as a distinctive composer and soloist"
Many thanks to Troy Dostert at All About Jazz for his thoughtful appraisal of Un(seaworthy). Read the original 4-star review here (full text below):
Review of (Un)seaworthy
by Troy Dostert (All About Jazz)
November 28, 2020
Although he's a relative newcomer to the jazz world, having released his debut album, Trio (Endectomorph Music) in 2018, tenor saxophonist Kevin Sun is well on his way toward staking a major claim as a distinctive composer and soloist. After an excellent two-disc effort, The Sustain of Memory (Endectomorph) in 2019, he's now adding to his burgeoning discography with another trio album, (Un)seaworthy, featuring his regular associates, bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor. With a formidable compositional apparatus but a strikingly accessible sound, this release may be the best indicator yet of Sun's promising future as a rising star on the tenor sax.
Sun is too ambitious to be a rote-following traditionalist, and the complexity of Sustain of Memory displayed a restless creativity, from spartan trio work with Stinson and Honor to trickier quartet pieces with pianist Dana Saul, and finally adding another layer of lyricism with trumpeter Adam O'Farrill on a three-part suite for quintet. Yet deep down, Sun has a warmth, richness and rhythmic vitality to his playing that at times brings Lester Young or Sonny Rollins to mind; and that aspect helps him stand out from other avant-gardists who rely more on head than heart for their appeal. One can hear this most clearly in his trio playing, where his instrumental voice emerges most forcefully. The trio cuts on Sustain of Memory largely had the feel of etudes, though—rather brief pieces, of around two to three minutes each, trying out a series of different ideas. The five tracks on (Un)seaworthy, by contrast, are longer, with a fuller opportunity to appreciate the emotional depth and feeling that Sun brings to his music.
The opener, "Bad Lady," is drawn from "Oh, Lady Be Good," the first recorded meeting of Lester Young and Charlie Parker in 1946. Sun takes the two saxophonists' solos and merges them, using a deftly evolving rhythmic structure to add surprise and unpredictability to the piece. At almost nine minutes, it offers the perfect showcase for Sun's intrepid improvising, both precise and tenacious, while also utilizing the strengths of Stinson and Honor, who move from subtle intensity to fervid excursions at a moment's notice. And the piece ends with a lovely finish, with Sun tossing off a delightful, breathy riff.
The other pieces possess the same dualism: thoughtfully crafted and at times even cerebral in conception, yet with enough underlying sentiment to prevent their becoming exercises in abstraction. "Seaworthy" is emotionally direct, with a melodic power that offsets the piece's shape-shifting meters. "Latinate" lays down another rhythmic maze, this time with Stinson's exceedingly nimble bass work leading the way, and with Honor's marked ability to keep the piece swinging despite its knotty contours. The drummer also excels on "Prelude/Cathedral of the Perpetual Hustle," where after an invigorating solo he skillfully negotiates an elusive ballad tempo that seems ever-so-slightly out of sync. And the album ends with a flourish with the energizing "Facsimilate," where a bit of elliptical funk surges under another resonant solo from Sun, who somehow remains perfectly locked in with his partners in the midst of his exploratory flights.
If there's a complaint to be made here, it's that the album feels too brief at just 35 minutes—particularly after the cornucopia that was Sustain of Memory. But Sun's prodigious talents signal that there will be much more music to come, and probably sooner rather than later.
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