Hayoung Lyou, Metamorphosis, Endectomorph music, April 10,2020

Pianist Hayoung Lyou showcases transformation on her debut release, Metamorphosis out April 10, 2020 on Endectomorph Music.
Metamorphosis reveals Lyou’s mature, patient conception of jazz and improvised music for quintet.

“She is going to go far … an engaging aesthetic.” — Ethan Iverson

Stepping forward as a leader with Metamorphosis, pianist Hayoung Lyou’s first release showcases her probing musical intelligence as she leads her quintet through a program of originals marked by classically inflected forms with an undercurrent of romantic feeling.

Like many pianists, Lyou began with classical training at an early age and quickly distinguished herself as a notable young talent before turning to jazz full-time. Her studies at Berklee and New England Conservatory in Boston included invaluable one-on-one study with modern masters such as Joanne Brackeen, Jason Moran, Helen Sung, and Ethan Iverson. Soon after graduating, Lyou moved to New York and began assembling a team of collaborators to realize her musical vision.

Alto saxophonist-clarinetist Jasper Dütz and tenor saxophonist Jacob Shulman, who grew up playing together in the greater Los Angeles area, share the front line. Shulman and Lyou were classmates in Boston, and Shulman subsequently introduced Dütz to the pianist, leading to further collaborations including an ongoing duo project.

“Jasper has his own language and he just understands my songs very well,” Lyou says. “He has played with Jacob for a long time, and when they play together, it sounds like they are one person, in a strange and beautiful way.”

Bassist Simón Willson knew Shulman from Boston and contributes sterling bass playing to the record, as does drummer Dayeon Seok, a frequent collaborator with Willson in the rhythm team, including on recent recordings by Dave Douglas and others.

The album opens with “Reason,” a pensive waltz led by Dütz’s bass clarinet burnished with Lyou’s harmonic flourishes. Of particular note is the quicksilver soli passage between bass clarinet and piano at the climax of the former’s solo, which leads into a stunning bass and piano duet passage. 

Following is the title track, which Lyou says was inspired by one of her teachers in Boston, the former Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson. 

“I composed the title song ‘Metamorphosis’ after attending an Ethan Iverson performance at the Village Vanguard,” Lyou writes in her liner notes. “When I came home, I sat at the piano and searched for a melody that reminded me of Ethan.”

With a nod to Iverson’s penchant for low register mysterium in the solo piano introduction, the piece introduces its minor-major theme in the alto and tenor saxophones before a floating, expressive solo statement by Shulman on tenor. A brief, stirring solo piano cadenza prepares the reprise of the theme before the final coda ends the piece on a major chord.

Despite being 11 tracks in total, the album is made up of nine songs divided into pairs by one piece, “Animus.” Inspired by a theory of Carl Jung’s found in Herman Hesse’s novel Demian, Lyou explains that the “Animus” interludes “evoke the repetition of the dream, where an extremely beautiful woman with masculine features continually appears to the novel’s protagonist.” 

Beginning with a chain of complex rhythms with mutating triadic harmony, the series sets the mood for an explosive solo statement by Dütz in “Animus II” before an elegant contrapuntal resolution in Lyou’s extended harmonic language in “Animus III.” These pieces show Lyou’s formal ingenuity while also suggesting intriguing possibilities for her future work, and she acknowledges pianist Matt Mitchell, a prolific composer of thorny, dense music for improvisers, as a major influence on this piece.

“These days my main interest is analyzing classical pieces and studying voice leading,” she says. “I also want to play more fully-notated contemporary pieces with jazz-influenced improvising, and “Animus” is a seed of that idea.”

“Night Person,” a reference to Lyou’s own inclination toward the evening hours in matters personal and creative, shows the pianist to best advantage weaving and swinging through an obstacle course of chord changes. Lyou, a self-declared melodist by nature, nevertheless engages the rhythm section of Willson and Seok with rhythmic gambits and registral jumps that call to mind the recently passed Geri Allen and her musical proponents, including Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn. The saxophonists Dütz and Shulman follow with a fiery episode of improvised counterpoint, the product of hundreds of gigs played together over the past 12 years.

“Demian,” the most explicit allusion to Lyou’s literary inspirations, presents a straightforward theme set to a shifting tonal palette with several surprising yet effective choices. “Heaven” introduces the guest vocals of Wonmi Jung, a fellow New England Conservatory classmate of Lyou’s, who delivers the song’s melancholy lyrics with unadorned grace. In a clever reversal of the swing-song tradition, another ravishing statement of the melody by Dütz’s bass clarinet follows before a haunting final choral refrain by Jung, Lyou, and Seok. 

“Busan,” dedicated to South Korea’s second largest city, features the pianist playing trio in the style of a classical piano impromptu before concluding with an alto saxophone solo by Dütz. In composing this work, Lyou drew inspiration from a major historical event of the Korean War: the United Nations-led evacuation of Hungnam, a North Korean port, in the weeks before Christmas 1950. “14,000 refugees were transported on one ship and were dropped off in Busan, and they made a living out of nothing,” she says. “Busan was just hills surrounded by sea—a barren place—and this song gently carries my feelings about this bitter history, in recognition of the Busan today.”

“Solitude,” the album’s penultimate track, is also its oldest composition, a contrapuntal work for solo piano modulates with late romantic verve and unembellished feeling. Taken on its own, the piece embodies the pianist’s motivations as described in the album’s notes: prioritizing “economy of space and notes,” as well as modulating dynamics and range for emotional impact. 

Metamorphosis concludes with a bright, swinging piece for piano trio appropriately titled “A Sunny Day in Yankee Stadium.” With its charming use of pedal point and folksy harmony, the arrangement flows forth with traces of Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet, but with a more composerly orientation that is distinctly Lyou’s. At this juncture, she most looks forward to continuing the journey begun with this debut album. 

“Most musicians’ dream is to be able to continue their projects, which sounds simple but actually demands immense work from myself and the support of friends and family,” she says. “I am certain that each of the little events of my musical life will lead me to where I should go next.”

Lyou’s attentiveness to orchestration and episodic development shines throughout her debut album, and the balance of moods and emotional settings across the album reveal a promising new voice on the contemporary jazz scene.