Jazz Review: Cathy Segal-Garcia & Yoonseung Cho - Bohemian

An adventurous jazz vocal record.
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bohemianBohemian is the result of the musical relationship between pianist Yoonseung Chon and singer Cathy Segal-Garcia. The two came together as many musical relationships do, with a series of meetings and encounters through the Los Angeles scene. With Cho heading back to Korea, the decision was made to get the pair into the studio to document the bond in the form of an album.

As jazz vocal records go, Bohemian is an interesting one. It is minimalistic without feeling small, with Cho’s keys and Segal-Garcia’s adventurous vocals trading exchanges throughout the dozen songs. It also boasts a sense of exploration, one that results in a lot of moves that test boundaries and raise valid musical questions. This isn’t a record about nailing down perfection; it’s a record about conversing, about feeling, about loving the art form.

In that regard, Bohemian is refreshing right from the opening bars of the title track. It is invigorating to come across a jazz vocal album that isn’t jammed to the brim with immeasurable retreads from the noble but overdone Great American Songbook, after all.

Segal-Garcia, the co-founder of the Jazz Vocal Coalition and the president of The California Pop & Jazz Council, has a voice primed to explore the outer limits. She is exciting and bold, sometimes stuffing too many words into a phrase and other times climbing to heroic heights in her registry. Because of her sparkling tone and graceful phrasing, almost everything she throws into listeners’ ears sticks.

Cho is the perfect match, a bold Seoul-born pianist who moved to Argentina at age 14 and studied classical music there. From 2001-2003, Cho was selected by Herbie Hancock to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute at USC. His playing is both fluid and impactful. He plays steadily, sometimes extraordinarily so, and is the ultimate lyrical counterpoint to Segal-Garcia’s vocals.

“Her Family” is a highlight of Bohemian. It sprang into existence after Segal-Garcia wrote words to the Pat Metheny song “In Her Family” and had her words praised by the legend. From that point on, it was only a matter of time before her version was recorded. Cho plays exquisitely on the ballad.

Another stimulating moment is “Fragile,” a familiar piece by Sting. Rather than singing it with space and composure, Segal-Garcia pounds away with robust emotions. Her forceful performance calls to mind some of Sinead O’Connor’s bolder moments. Cho builds the tension smartly and never strains in his role, playing as the perfect companion to Segal-Garcia’s passionate cloudburst. It is a remarkable piece of work and my favourite track.

Bohemian is a quality jazz vocal record. Cho’s playing is prominent and smooth, while Segal-Garcia’s thrill-seeking free spirit is well worth spending some time with. Thanks to a trust in freedom rather than faultlessness, this album is one of the most encouraging of its kind to come out in some time.