Pianist Dabin Ryu‘s album Wall – streaming at Spotify – has a dark undercurrent to match her lyrical, translucent style. In the aptly titled opening number, The Light, a warm enveloping nocturnal pedalpoint introduces a similarly invitingly melodic jazz waltz. Ryu follows a soaring alto sax solo with a scrambling, crescendoing one of her own, the horns behind her serving as more of a lustrous string section. She ends it enigmatically. It’s a very strong opener: Matt Ulery‘s work comes to mind.
Guitarist Kevin Scollins ambles and angles over the lithe pulse of bassist Benjamin Young and drummer Willis Edmundson as the second track, I’ll Never Know, gathers steam. Just when you think Ryu is going to linger in loungey gleam, she picks up with a lushly orchestral drive. Scollins chooses his spots from there with plenty of slash and bite.
In Temple Run, alto saxophonists Nathan See and Zoe Obadia blend with trumpeter Fernando Ferrarone as the rhythm section loosen the reins on lickety-split swing, trumpet and piano bobbing and weaving. In the album’s title track, a diptych, guest Anthony Marsden’s vocalese floats calmly as Ryu shifts from stern to contemplative and back. Guitar and piano run tricky, loopy riffs as the horns punch in on the second part.
Uneasy, intertwining close harmonies from the saxes introduce the next number, Moon, Ryu emerging from a squirrelly thicket to lead the group in an amiably lyrical waltz, which she again takes in a more emphatic, conflicted direction. She moves between bluesy gravitas and spare, acidic phrasing in Stillborn, a solo piece – it’s the album’s most haunting track.
The full band return and pick up the pace with a tricky syncopation in Suspicion, crushing McCoy Tyner-esque piano chords anchoring lively sax tradeoffs. The album’s big epic is Taxi Driver, emerging from a darkly Messiaenic solo piano intro to a genially nocturnal, gospel-tinged bounce that could be a tv show theme, a funky bass solo at the center.
Ryu winds up the album with We Will Meet Again, a cheery soca-jazz tune punctuated by moments of wary acerbity, Let’s hope we get more from this colorful tunesmith, whose greatest strength seems to be darker material.