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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - Quartet +
Artist - Helen Sung with Harlem Quartet

For those unaware, Helen Sung is an acclaimed jazz pianist and composer, and a newly named 2021 Guggenheim Fellow.

A native of Houston, Texas, and graduate of its High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), she eschewed her classical piano upbringing after a jazz epiphany during undergraduate studies at UT Austin.

Helen went on to become part of the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute (now the Herbie Hancock Institute) at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Pianist/composer and 2021 Guggenheim Fellow Helen Sung celebrates the work of influential women composers on her latest album Quartet+, crafting new arrangements of tunes by Geri Allen, Carla Bley, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, and Toshiko Akiyoshi while carrying the tradition forward with her own stunning new works.

Co-produced by violin master Regina Carter, the album pairs Sung’s quartet with the strings of the GRAMMY® Award-winning Harlem Quartet in an inventive meld of jazz and classical influences.

1. Feed The Fire
2. Mary’s Waltz (feat. Melissa White)
3. Coquette
4. Elegy For The City (feat. Jaime Amador)
5. Time loops
6. Intermission: A Grand Night for Swinging
7. Long Yellow Road
8. Wrong Key Donkey
9. Melancholy Mood (feat. Harlem Quartet)
10. Kaleidoscope
11. Lament for Kalief Browder (feat. Felix Umansky)
12. Sungbird (feat. Ilma Gavilan)
13. Reprise: A Grand Night for Swinging

This tantalizingly wondrous new album opens on the dramatically striking Feed The Fire and the dulcet tones of Mary’s Waltz (feat. Melissa White) and backs those up seamlessly with the playful artistry of Coquette, before bringing us the two-movement Temporality section of the recording: the ornate stillness of Elegy For The City (feat. Jaime Amador) that is then matched with the benevolently fervent Time loops.

Next comes a quick Intermission: A Grand Night for Swinging which itself continues with the symphonic qualities of Long Yellow Road and then we are treated to the originality and eccentricity found within the whimsical Wrong Key Donkey, before we are given the aptly-named Melancholy Mood (feat. Harlem Quartet).

The layered group improvisations of Kaleidoscope are up next and then come both the breathtakingly adorned Lament for Kalief Browder (feat. Felix Umansky, and dedicated to the Bronx teenager who committed suicide following his arduous three-year imprisonment without trial at Rikers Island) and the passionate Sungbird (feat. Ilma Gavilan), the album closing on the minute long Reprise: A Grand Night for Swinging.

Helen and her band have performed at major American festivals and venues including Newport, Monterey, Disney Hall, SFJAZZ, and Carnegie Hall.

Internationally, her NuGenerations Project toured southern Africa as a U.S. State Department Jazz Ambassador, and recent engagements include debuts at the London Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai, Blue Note Beijing, and the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival.

She has performed with such luminaries as the late Clark Terry, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Wynton Marsalis (who named her as one of his Who’s Got Next: Jazz Musicians to Watch!), MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter, and Grammy-winning artists including Terri Lyne Carrington, Cecile McLorin Salvant, and the Mingus Big Band.

Helen is a Steinway Artist and has served on the jazz faculties at Berklee College of Music, the Juilliard School, and Columbia University, where she also was the inaugural jazz artist-in-residence at Columbia’s prestigious Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute.

Looking at the difference between September 2020 and September 2021 fills me with hope for the future, Helen explains, that slowly but surely we are reclaiming live music and community.

Case in point, we had a blast last month at the San Jose Jazz Summerfest: besides the joy of presenting Quartet+, it was awesome to hang with other musicians who were also performing and get to hear their sets.

This month has plenty of excitement in store, foremost of which is the release of Quartet+ on Sunnyside Records on September 17th, 2021 with release shows at Flushing Town Hall (Sept.16), at the Lake George Jazz at the Lake Series (Sept.18), and Amherst College (Oct.1).

I am excited to see where Quartet+ takes us, and hope you’ll join me for the ride!

Her recent releases Sung With Words (Stricker Street), a collaborative project with renowned poet Dana Gioia funded by a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant, and Anthem For A New Day (Concord Jazz) topped the jazz charts.

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