Seulah Noh Jazz Orchestra, NOhMad Review


Seulah Noh Jazz Orchestra, NOhMad Review

by Jeff Becker

Seulah-Noh-Jazz-Sensibilities-CDSeulah Noh’s debut album, NOhMAD, is a vibrant listening journey through many colors, sounds, and emotions. Noh, a South Korean pianist, composer, and conductor with roots deeply embedded in classical training, embarks on a bold journey into jazz’s rich landscapes, blending the intricacies of her classical heritage with the liberating dynamics of jazz. This nine-song project allows us to delve into the heart of Noh’s creative odyssey, exploring the technical brilliance, cultural nuances, and her ability to express emotions in her compositions.

NOhMAD is a collection of musical stories told through the language of jazz, infused with fusion, classical, and rock elements. The compositions, notably “L’illusionniste” and the three-part “Traveler’s Suite,” showcase Noh’s adeptness at weaving together complex musical ideas with an emotive clarity that speaks directly to the listener’s soul and keeps one engaged while listening. The inclusion of a string quartet on the latter, alongside the traditional 17-piece big band setup, adds a lush, dimensional quality to the sound, marking a distinctive departure from conventional jazz orchestrations.

“L’illusionniste,” featuring the ethereal vocals of Song Yi Jeon, stands out as a masterclass in musical storytelling. From its rubato introduction to the intricate layers of ensemble textures, Noh’s composition evokes vivid imagery, akin to a painter using sonic hues to sketch emotions. Nathan See’s alto saxophone solo, underpinned by the orchestra’s supportive textures, exemplifies the seamless integration of individual virtuosity within the collective narrative, a hallmark of Noh’s compositional style.

“Hear the Light,” graced by Astghik Martirosyan’s hauntingly beautiful voice, further underscores Noh’s gift for balancing technical sophistication with melodic creativity. The piece transitions from a contemplative opening to a groove-infused climax, showcasing her ability to navigate through diverse sonic landscapes while maintaining a cohesive thematic core. The brass and woodwind sections, adorned with carefully chosen mutes and arrangements, create a backdrop that allows Martirosyan’s voice to soar, illustrating Noh’s meticulous attention to detail and her capacity to evoke a spectrum of emotions through her orchestration.

The “Traveler’s Suite,” particularly “II. A Letter from Me,” encapsulates the essence of Noh’s personal and musical journey. The integration of a string quartet enriches the textural palette and enhances her depth of the composition and orchestration. This piece, through its evolving motifs and dynamic contrasts, embodies the spirit of exploration and discovery that defines NOhMAD. Michael Gerace’s trombone solo, intertwined with the ensemble’s nuanced dynamics, exemplifies the dialogic nature of jazz, where composition and improvisation converge to create moments of transcendence. Dabin Ryu’s piano solo and Kevin Scollins’ guitar solo are also fine moments of improvisation backed by Noh’s supportive and colorful writing.

Noh’s arrangement of Pat Metheny’s ‘Have You Heard’ serves as a quintessential showcase of her unique ability to meld classical and jazz sonorities. The orchestration colors she employs are unique and flow with organic grace, paying homage to Metheny’s distinct musical history and language. Noh navigates this terrain with an intuitive understanding, breathing new hues into the arrangement. Mike Brehm’s trumpet solo glides through the piece with fluidity. Nick Biagini’s bari saxophone solo navigates the harmonic landscape with agility. Kevin Scollins’ rendition of the melody and his solo work are exemplary, capturing the essence of Metheny’s spirit. The rhythm section, with Willis Edmundson on drums and Kan Yanabe on percussion, provides the quintessential Metheny drive and energy, each contributing solos that are compelling and complementary to the arrangement. This performance underscores the critical balance between individual expression and collective harmony, a hallmark of Noh’s approach to blending classical precision with jazz’s improvisational spirit.

NOhMAD represents a pivotal moment in Noh’s artistic journey, marking her transition from a classical virtuoso to a visionary jazz composer. The album’s fusion of diverse musical elements—reflective of Noh’s own experiences as a cultural nomad—speaks to the universality of jazz as a medium of expression. It is a testament to the power of music to transcend boundaries, embodying the resilience of the human spirit and its perpetual quest for connection and understanding.

Seulah Noh’s debut offering is an invitation to experience the world through her creative perspective, to feel the passion, the longing, and the joy that have guided her musical voyage. NOhMAD is an enjoyable listening experience, as in Noh’s hands, jazz becomes a bridge between worlds, a celebration of the past, and a bold leap into the future.

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