2013 in Review: Day 7 – Jazz, Crossover and Other

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Heo So-young

[The 2013 in Review Series]

0. Prelude – Best Album Art
1. Introduction
2. R&B and Soul
3. Rock and Alternative
4. Rap and Hip-hop
5. Dance and Electronic
6. Pop, Ballad and Folk
7. Jazz, Crossover and Other
8. Best Collaborative Work
9. Rookie of the Year
10. Song of the Year
11. Artist of the Year
12. Album of the Year
13. Staff Picks
14. Miscellanea and Loose Ends
15. Concluding Remarks

The Korean jazz scene’s size or depth is no longer a limiting concern; the consistently excellent talent and technical skill across the board also make it difficult to pick favorites. There’s a heavier representation of jazz in this category this year, a testament to the strong year these artists have had. But you’ll also find plenty of entries from crossover, instrumental and other genres, particularly in the songs category.

Important: same as last year, the Album of the Year and Song of the Year (and their runner-ups) are not included in the genre categories. That means that, for example, there could be a jazz album that isn’t being recognized on this page because it’s the album of the year. Also, note that honorable mention picks are sorted by alphabetical order of artist names.


Best Jazz and Crossover Album 2013

        Yaya - Cruel Picture

Yaya – 잔혹영화 (Cruel Picture)

It was very close to being the runner-up Album of the Year. Such was the power and unlikely grace and beauty of Cruel Picture, that an album this foreign can speak so effectively. Yaya transcends genres in this sophomore album, borrowing from post-rock, trip-hop, jazz, and more, and not in some subtle way. Most tracks hit hard and fast, unloading incredibly detailed and rich sound that’s best described as “overwhelming”. It’s unpredictable: she might layer massive string movements, accelerate a waltz rhythm until hardly recognizable, start a chant, or even adopt familiar modern-rock tropes for a while. The only constant is that, whatever it is, it’s going to be uneasy, uncomfortable, oftentimes twisted, and irresistibly fascinating. The year’s most charismatic album, Cruel Picture is the definition of artistic control.

Runner-up Jazz and Crossover Album 2013

Heo So-young - That's All

Heo So-young – That’s All

It’s not every day that you see a jazz artist debut with an entirely self-composed album and then come back with a sophomore album filled entirely with jazz standard tracks. But that’s exactly with Heo So-young did, and with a careful and loving touch she takes us back to the heydays of Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra. The arrangements of That’s All are minimalist, sticking with just a piano, contrabass and a little guitar all the way through, but they’re not lacking in life. The plucky and intricate performances move with enduring energy while preserving the feel of the original eras, and on this backdrop Heo works her mellow tones. With this kind of mastery over voice and sound, the vocalist can do any ambitious thing she wants – that’s one takeaway from, yes, an album of standards.

Honorable Mentions

Dada - Crusaders

Dada – Crusaders

Kim Oki - Cherubim's Wrath

Kim Oki – Cherubim’s Wrath

Basic CMYK

Kim Jung-bae – Santa Monica

Kim Sung-bae - Pepper Man

Kim Sung-bae – Pepper Man

Seo Sang-jun - Wannabe

Seo Sang-joon – Wannabe

Sorri - Daycare

Sorri – Daycare

Winterplay - Two Fabulous Fools

Winterplay – Two Fabulous Fools

Yoon Suk-chul Trio - Love Is a Song

Yoon Suk-chul Trio – Love Is a Song


Best Jazz and Crossover Song 2013

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(This live rendition is a bit longer than the studio version; there is a longer instrumental break and an extended middle movement.)

Nah Youn-sun – Momento Magico [read our album review]

Nah Youn-sun’s lyrical performances have reached an apex. But her scatting is also out of this world, as evidenced in this track. Ulf Wakenius‘s guitar follows Nah’s rapid notes, and as accordion and contrabass enter and crescendo, the tension becomes palpable. There are a few climactic climbs that culminate in Nah’s extreme falsetto, punctuated by a guitar solo and bridges, and Nah is in control all throughout the complex structure. Her performance – blending husky belts and crystal-clear soprano alongside her usual range – is as rousing as it is evocative and passionate, and it’s a fitting reminder why she is Korea’s most famous jazz vocalist. Magical moment, indeed.

Runner-up Jazz and Crossover Song 2013

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Humming Urban Stereo – Human Zoo (Featuring Gros-Câlin)

Sparkle (2012), Humming Urban Stereo’s fourth studio album, was disappointing; on the other hand, the songs that didn’t make it into that album and instead released as epilogue singles have been fantastic. Human Zoo is one of those inexplicably good tracks. When it comes down to it, not a whole lot happens here. It’s a piano-bass-drum loop and a vocal sample. But Z.Linn makes an addictive groove and engaging song out of little: he splices film dialogue to make up a conversation, and the reel tape recording makes those piano tones vintage smooth. There are plenty of excellent performance recordings to be found below, but no synthetic production of 2013 was quite like Human Zoo.

Honorable Mentions

Ahn Sang-jun Quartet – Rainier’s Alley
Choi Il-min – You
Choi Young-du – Something’s Still Wrong
Dada – Fairy Tales Come True
eAeon – Harder Better Faster Stronger
Heo So-young – Destination Moon
Hyun Yong-sun Trio – What Are You Waiting For
IU – 누구나 비밀은 있다 (Everyone Has a Secret) (Featuring Ga-in)
Jang Jung-mi – Sad But Beautiful
Jo Jung-chi – 치유 (Healing) [read our album review]
Ju Bora – 에너지 (Energy)
Jung Jang-min – Can You Dance?
Kim Jung-bae – Santa Monica
Kim Oki – 칼날 (Blade)
Kwak Yoon-chan – Forty Nine
La Ventana – Que Nadie Sepa Mi Sufrir (Featuring Woongsan)
Lee In-kwan – Missing You
Lee Soo-ryun – Forest [read our album review]
Malo – 안녕 (Annyong) (Featuring Shim Seong-rak)
Mild Beats – 해후 (Re-encounter)
Na Hee-kyung – Moment
Nah Youn-sun – Full Circle
Nah Youn-sun – Lento
Nalja Ohnyong – AM : 8
Nok – 수면 위 (Above Water)
Oriental Express – Color of Mind
Rainbow99 and Yoon Jae-ho – 아침 (Morning) (Featuring Park Ji-hye)
Ravie Nuage – 사랑하고 싶어요 (Want To Love) [read our album review]
Rio – Spot Light
Ryu Joo-hee – Lover Man
SamSam – The Ugly Duckling
Seo Sang-joon – Wannabe
Solati – Moondance
Song In-sup Trio – Plitvice
Song Ji-yeon – I Was a Car
small o – 까마귀 (Magi) [read our album review]
TeamJc – 군계일학 (Above the Rest) (Featuring MKL)
Tony Shin – Smooth Season
Yaya – Truth (Featuring Shin Yoon-chul)
Yaya – 축제 (Festival)
Yaya – 파괴자 (Destroyer)
Yoon Suk-chul Trio – Love Is a Song
Yoon Suk-chul Trio – We Don’t Need to Go There

Sources: Photos – Heo So-young and album art from Daum Music; Videos from YouTube

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