*Acoustic post-bop recording features Mark Turner on tenor sax, Alexis Cuadrado or Chris Higgins on upright bass and Bill Campbell on drums*
Fresh Sound/New Talent Records announces the January 15, 2008 release of John Chin’s debut album, Blackout Conception, a highly melodic effort that underscores the Brooklyn resident’s talents as not only an acoustic pianist, but also, as a producer (Chin produced Blackout Conception with bassist Alexis Cuadrado), group leader and composer. Three of the seven tracks on Blackout Conception are Chin originals: the dusky title track, the melancholy “I Won’t Argue with You” and the contemplative “After Crash.” Other highlights of the album, which illustrates the warm and lyrical nature of Chin’s pianism, include the improviser’s thoughtful interpretations of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” and two pieces by veteran pianist Kenny Barron: “Lullaby” and “Joanne Julia.” Jordi Pujol, president of Barcelona-based Fresh Sound, serves as Blackout Conception’s executive producer.
One of Chin’s strongest pianistic influences on Blackout Conception is his mentor Barron, who he studied with extensively at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “Lullaby” and “Joanne Julia” are both compositions that Chin learned from Barron, who also taught him the timeless Strayhorn standard “Passion Flower.” The 31-year-old Chin asserts: “Kenny is a living legend, and I wanted to do two of his songs because I respect him so much as a musician and as a person. I learned a lot from Kenny.”
Chin’s Brazilian-influenced arrangement of “Joanne Julia” came about as a result of listening to a lot of recordings by Brazilian great Caetano Veloso. Meanwhile, Blackout Conception’s title track was inspired by the East Coast blackout of 2003. Chin recalls: “I was in New Jersey when the blackout happened—and coming back from Jersey, I had never seen anything like it. Manhattan was pretty dim, but there was this camaraderie happening in the streets.”
Chin, who has been a fixture on the New York City jazz scene since the late 1990s, was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1976 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he began studying classical piano at the age of four and discovered jazz when he was in his early teens. When he was just 14, Chin entered California State University, Los Angeles as a pre-med student; by the age of 15, after studying jazz piano and playing in some jazz ensembles, he changed his major to music.
Chin's decision to pursue a career as a jazz musician was initially met with strong reservations by his parents. "My parents worked very hard to become successful," Chin explains, "and it was a shock to them when I wanted to become a jazz musician. They were worried about how unstable a career in music can be. But I persevered and did what I had to do. Something about jazz always spoke to me."
Chin graduated from Cal State L.A. with a BA in music when he was 19. He then attended the University of North Texas; eventually, he moved to the East Coast to study with Barron at Rutgers University, where he earned a masters degree in music in 1999. Rutgers immediately made Chin one of the college's youngest faculty members. Since his arrival on the East Coast, Chin has performed with a long list of well respected musicians, including vocalist Norah Jones, drummer/pianist Joe Chambers, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, tenor/soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
Chin brings a variety of pianistic influences to Blackout Conception, ranging from Oscar Peterson to McCoy Tyner to Bill Evans. But Chin stresses that not all of his influences are pianists; he also describes the iconic trumpeter Miles Davis as a “huge influence,” adding, “Musically, Miles is first on my list as far as influences, and pianistically, I was influenced by so many of the musicians who came out of his bands — Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett. The way that Miles let his guys play and express themselves as individuals within his band is something I try to do with the musicians who play with me. I find that the best stuff happens when you let guys be themselves.”
On Blackout Conception, Chin enjoys a consistently strong rapport with all of his sidemen, including Campbell, who he has known since his days at the University of North Texas, and bassists Cuadrado and Higgins, both of whom he met through Campbell. And Chin has nothing but praise for Turner, who he has played with extensively. “Mark Turner, to me, is one of the greats,” Chin comments. “There is so much depth, focus and clarity in Mark’s playing.”
Although Chin plays the acoustic piano exclusively on the straight-ahead Blackout Conception, he is also fluent on electric keyboards and intends to play them on future albums. Chin, whose taste in music ranges from Bela Bartok to Radiohead to Ray Charles, remains open to trying different things in the future, but jazz, he emphasizes, will remain his primary direction.
“It was really a struggle for me to pursue jazz as a career,” Chin asserts, “but I’m glad that I did.” And Chin’s passion for jazz is very much in evidence throughout this impressive debut album.
by George W. Carroll
"This CD is my definition of 'mainstream.' There's conception, ideas, horn lines, intellectual solos, feeling, interpretation as well as gainful melodic & harmonically viable improvisation contained therein. Also, may I pay tribute to Chin's composing efforts which are included which are compelling to say the least. Chin's piano delivery is stellar in that he is adept at intricate & outstanding musical contexts that relate to his sure sense of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic brinkmanship. Both John & his group are to be considered powerful, skilled, & appealingly genuine, & any recognition that this present project creates I assure my readers is fully deserved."
All Music Guide
by Michael G. Nastos
Another pianist from the Fresh Sound/New Talent stable of emerging jazz artists, John Chin has produced a fine debut CD emphasizing modern mainstream jazz, splitting time between interpreting music written by others and composing original material. He was born in Seoul, South Korea, grew up in Los Angeles, studied music at North Texas State and Rutgers Universities, and as of this debut effort resides in Brooklyn. Chin is a fine musician, with a good amount of wit, charm, literacy, and solid musicianship. As with many contemporary jazz pianists, he comes out of the post-Bill Evans school, in tune with such recent contemporaries as Kenny Kirkland, Joey Calderazzo, and Frank Kimbrough, but his most telling influence is that of virtuoso Kenny Barron. Two tracks are lesser-known Barron compositions, the pretty and pristine waltz “Lullaby” and a deliberate, modified funky New Orleans shuffle titled “Joanne Julia,” both featuring the easygoing and lyrical tenor sax work of Mark Turner in quartet settings. Turner's quite pleasant and unfettered sound is also present on the title track, a spirit waltz with a contradictory title, and the slow drifting “After Crash.” Chin leads a trio without Turner for a well-rendered and reinvented, loping take on the standard “Some Other Time,” the slow ballad “Passion Flower” (which is clearly a Chin favorite), and another spirit ballad, “I Won't Argue with You.” The title of this recording might scare listeners, but shouldn't. This is a thoughtful, intelligent, enjoyable date that marks Chin's future as a developing artist, and aligns him with peers such as Aaron Goldberg, Aaron Parks, Bryn Roberts, George Colligan, Toru Dodo, Robert Glasper, and Danny Grissett.
by Jeff Dayton-Johnson
The début recording by pianist John Chin features two compositions by Kenny Barron, and fans of the great Philadelphia pianist will most probably like Blackout Conception for the elements it shares with Barron’s playing: a strong, deliberate touch, bluesy delivery, well-argued improvisation, a streak of sentimentality.
The songs on this record are long-ish. This is jazz, of course, and in live performance long numbers are de rigueur, but who among the younger players in the broad mainstream (save maybe Chris Potter or Nik Bartsch) routinely turns in ten-minute tracks on every album cut?
The long playing times make a lot of sense in Chin’s case, however. On some tracks, Chin takes his time to develop marvelous solos. Barron’s "Lullaby" is an excellent case in point. Chin’s solo begins with a dense chord-based section, akin to the strumming of a Spanish guitar; this is followed by an ingenious construction based on sprinkled notes, leaping deftly around the keyboard, only to finish with a grandiose, Oscar Peterson-like close. And this is just one facet of his multifaceted playing. Chin’s solo on Billy Strayhorn’s "Passion Flower" is symphonic in an appropriately Ellingtonian way. On "I Won’t Argue With You," meanwhile, you could close your eyes and imagine you are hearing Charlie ("Behind Closed Doors") Rich. (This is a compliment; Rich was a fine soul-jazz pianist.)
Other cuts run long to allow Chin to repeat the themes somewhat hypnotically for long stretches, like Miles Davis did on "Nefertiti," without solos. Or rather, these numbers—like the unapologetically sentimental "I Won’t Argue With You"—feature improvisation based on the melody, rather than the harmony, the opposite of the usual jazz strategy. (There are, of course, precedents, Art Tatum prominent among them.)
Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner of the Fly collective gives a remarkably assured and mature performance on four cuts here. Drummer Chris Patterson, while he doesn’t have the sinuous lateral capacity needed to underlie the Brazilian reading of Barron’s "Joanne Julia," is a tremendously sympathetic player: especially noteworthy is the interweaving of his drums with Chin’s sprinkling solo on "Lullaby."
By Jerry D’Souza
Pianist John Chin marks his recording debut with three originals and four other compositions that have made an impression on him. Chin, who turned to jazz as a teenager, went on to study under Kenny Barron at Rutgers University. While Barron’s influence is present to an extent, Chin brings his own measure and intuition to bear in his playing. His ideas flow cohesively and he is as comfortable in letting them gush as he is in holding back and letting the music breathe.
Chin reworks Barron’s "Joanne Julia" with a Latin beat. Mark Turner serves up the initial delight on his tenor saxophone with an instilled yearning, neatly turning his phrases around and finding a new avenue to probe. Chin extends the melodic line and moves briskly through it, going just enough off the path to add apt interjections. His two-handed approach stamps his sense of invention. With Bill Campbell (drums) and Alex Cuadrado (bass) injecting a lively rhythm into the pulse, this tune is top notch.
"Passion Flower" has been taken through several interpretations. Chin is economical and judicious without sacrificing feeling. In his cogent exposition, he delves into the mood, lets it surface and wraps its arms around the listener.
Chin is a composer of no mean proportion. "Blackout Conception" was inspired by the East Coast blackout of 2003. Chin moves across several parameters: he is jaunty; he injects a sense of urgency; and he brings in swing. The mood is in constant flux and constantly riveting. Turner’s inflections are darker, as he gravitates to the core before spiraling upward and out with a big, brawny sound, all of which leads to a frenetic climax.
"I Won’t Argue With You" brings a change of mood and tempo. Chin crafts the song well, and his playing is unhurried, with every note given its moment to shine. The mood dissolves as he rouses the tempo and infuses a throbbing center. He then pulls back and lets his left hand hammer out the chords, with the music carrying a vivid message.
Chin charts a bright course with Blackout Conception that augurs well for the future.
By Eyal Hareuveni
Pianist John Chin's debut, Blackout Conception, demonstrates his affinity to highly melodic, song-like compositions. The 32 year-old Chin was born in Seoul, South Korea but grew up in Los Angeles, where he began to study classical piano. Chen graduated from California State University when he was 19, with a BA in music, attended the University of North Texas and than relocated to the American east coast to study with his mentor, veteran pianist Kenny Barron, at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Now residing in Brooklyn, Chin's music is not as dense and versatile as his life so far but, very much like Barron, Chin is a leader who knows how to work an infectious melody with elegance, charm and authority.
Chin's opening title track, written after the 2003 east coast blackout, relates to the camaraderie that Chin felt in the streets at that dusky time. Chin brings this rapport to this flowing melody-based composition, leaving enough room for his musical partners to express themselves throughout, with economical solos by saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Alexis Cuadrado. Chin's melancholic slow ballad, "I Won't Argue With You," shows his thoughtful way of developing an almost minimalist melody, till it gains more resonance and power. His meditative ballad, "After Crash," follows, retaining the same feeling but adding a more intuitive and inquisitive interplay between all players, including Turner.
Chin covers two compositions by Barron, the Brazilian-tinged "Joanne Julia," inspired by listening to Brazilian singer and guitarist Caetano Veloso's many recordings, and the soft and beautiful "Lullaby." Chin's touch and articulation is relaxed and in constant flux, and his interplay with Turner on both compositions is gentle and inspiring. His interpretation of Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time" shows Chin's assured and elegant articulation of the melody while playing with the beat. He concludes this promising recording with Billy Strayhorn's beautiful standard, "Passion Flower," taught to him by Barron. Chin just lets this timeless, bitter-sweet melody carry him and his quartet.
"Smart, introspective piano man that knows how to work as a member of an ensemble even though he’s the leader of the date. With a feathery, Bill Evans kind of touch, Chin chases those metaphoric elusive butterflies through the windmills of your mind with a low key but very memorable result."
Jazzreview dot com Review - Blackout Conception by Susan Frances
Pianist John Chin is a straight-ahead jazz musician who will get your toes tapping to his upbeat sprints and lull you off into dreamland with his misty tonics. The improvisations cording the piano and saxophone locks create lengthy manes with a warm sonorous. For instance, the cocktail jazz fumes of “Joanne Julia,” which is a composition that Chin learned from his mentor Kenny Barron, are elegantly furled with gorgeous saxophone lances crowning the sonic emulsion. The chord segments are crimped, tangled and lengthened to the melody’s specifications. The stellar piano trails of “I Won’t Argue With You” burn softly and wrap the melody with majestic aureoles. The track is an original composition by Chin and displays his ability to create lustrous arbors with the piano keys.
The habitat of flapping keys and sliding notes for the title track, another original piece by Chin, weathers the rocky swells and lively chord interaction. The soft simmer of “After Crash,” an original track by Chin, is socket with swift saxophone whisks causing a chain of commotion in the piano keys. The wispy drifts of Chin’s rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s piece “Some Other Time” is draped in smooth gospel-toned piano ringlets as the bass grooves supply a pillow of low-keyed floorboards. The circling saxophone sonnets of “Lullaby,” a track which Chin learned to play by Barron, are pronged by comfortable classic jazz phrasings, as too are the coasting piano sequences framed by languid rhythms sheeting “Passion Flower,” a tune written by Billy Strayhorn.
Like a tap dancer who stays in step with the music, John Chin is in tune with the melody’s persona. Chin avails himself to the freedom that causes straight-ahead jazz movements to sound luminous. The music is stately, presidential in stature and has a diet that includes improvised piano and saxophone montages. Produced by Chin and his bass player Alexis Cuadrado, Blackout Conception is a delightful walk along classic jazz’s bayou.
Jazz Society of Oregon Review
by Kyle O’Brien
A sense of melody is still highly important in the jazz world, and this debut album by Brooklynite Chin shows that melody can be had while putting forth a modern sound that is comforting yet contemporary. As arranger, player, composer and bandleader, Chin is accomplished. His dual roles allow him freedom but he never gets in the way of the song or the melody. The Brazilian arrangement of “Joanne Julia” is propelled by Chin’s pulsating piano but led by Mark Turner’s flowing saxophone. Chin is an adept soloist, which he learned from the great Kenny Barron. Chin pays and plays tribute to Barron, with two of these tracks, including the waltzing “Lullaby,” which he treats tenderly but with enough oomph to make it interesting. Chin is a promising talent as both an arranger and bandleader, provided he sticks to his great sense of melody as a guiding force.
Nashville City Paper Review
by Ron Wynn
Pianist John Chin plays with confidence and authority on Blackout Conception (Fresh Sounds), a new release that includes three stellar trio pieces and four other numbers with superb tenor saxophonist Mark Turner’s thrusts, statements and carefully developed solos adding an extra and memorable voice to the setting.
Chin capably develops the central melody on Kenny Barron’s “Lullaby” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” before zipping out to develop his own lines and direction. He makes his mark within the pieces in steady, resourceful fashion, while bassists Alexis Cuadrado or Chris Higgins (”Joanne Julia” and “Some Other Time”) team with drummer Bill Campbell in steadily following his course, complimenting his shifts and reuniting with him during the final choruses.
It is well-played, first-rate mainstream material, with enough surprises included to keep listeners attentive throughout each piece.
Bagatellen dot com
by Derek Taylor
Postbop is about as nebulous a genre tag available, yet writers (myself included) continue to use it as a convenient categorization device. From Geri Allen to Denny Zeitlin, its pervasiveness is directly proportional to the ease of its application. With parameters that bend without much resistance the “I know it when I hear it” adage often applies. Pianist John Chin’s new disc certainly slots within the overused/underdefined rubric, but what’s most surprising is how seamlessly it fits. Subjectively speaking, the music epitomizes my conception of the genre, almost uncannily so.
Chin’s keyboard style is assertive and polished, suggesting strong ties to the populous and popular Evans school. Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner is a practically a poster child of postbop, and consequently his presence on four cuts makes perfect sense. Bassist Alexis Cuadrado handles all but two of the pieces, leaving those to his understudy Chris Higgins. Drummer Bill Campbell completes the quartet. Chin’s taste in borrowed tunes passes muster with entries from the songbooks of Strayhorn and Kenny Barron, the latter another noticeable influence. He likes to stretch out, which occasionally leads to stretching thin as on the rhythmically boxed in Barron number “Joanne Julia”. The ballad “I Won’t Argue With You” is comparably discursive, but Chin’s emotion-rich left hand chords and Campbell’s whisking brushes bring a heightened degree of feeling.
Radio, water jug, candle and canned goods- all are items handy in the event of the disc’s titular event. Chin includes piano keys in his personal list of essentials and considering the level of commitment to the instrument heard here, his reasoning is clear. His website makes mention of electronics and a Rhodes track on his MySpace page further hints at other avenues of expression. The presence of either on this session could have served as a source of welcome variance to a program that already feels convention-prone. Difficult to champion, but also hard to decry, the album is my new litmus for applying the postbop tag to others. Perhaps inadvertently, Chin has assembled a useful tool for writers and listeners alike in salvaging the belabored descriptor from the scrap heap of inconsequence.
Irish Times Review
by RAY COMISKEY
Chin is a youngish, bop-flavoured pianist with a swinging, melodic style and an unambiguously full sound. It serves him well on the inventive trio treatments of Bernstein’s Some Other Time and the dissonant chording of his own I Won’t Argue With You, but the delicacy of Strayhorn’s Passion Flower is lost to an otherwise attractive swinging medium tempo. A big plus is the presence of tenor saxophonist Mark Turner on the remaining four pieces. Although Chin tends to comp rather emphatically behind a soloist, Turner is such a strong, mature performer that he can deal with it. The best moments occur when he’s around; he is brilliant on Kenny Barron’s Lullaby and perhaps finest of all on Chin’s lovely, if mournful, After Crash, where his flowing, fluent and lyrical solo is a highlight of an enjoyable album. *** (3 Stars)