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Album Review: "Undercover" - John Chin

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John Chin "Undercover"


John Chin's sophomore album, “Undercover” clearly demonstrates musical skill and ability to improvise . However, phrasing and themes are not developed in a way that captures the ear. Melodies and dramatic moments that could be developed are overshadowed or abandoned throughout the album.

Bass player Orlando le Fleming showed a smooth warm sound through numbers like “Undercover” and "Caravan". Chin's writing features le Fleming heavily, especially in his arrangement of the standard “Smile”. The piece suffers as a whole though, when the melody is overshadowed by the bass line. It is understood that different arrangements may feature a melody in different ways, especially in post-bop interpretations. However, in this arrangement, it was hard to tell whether the bass was supposed to be the center of the arrangement or if it was just balanced inappropriately.

“Edda” loses the listener from the beginning, starting with more than a minute of indeterminate piano noodling. Although the piece does seem to fill out with thematic material later on, the listener may already be long gone. The clear, pathos-laden theme in “Seemingly” catches the ear with clear development and harmonic support. This is the only piece on the album that seems to be reaching out to the audience.

Overall, John Chin's album has some bright spots in writing and especially in performance, but suffers an illness jazz is often criticized for, the illness of self-indulgence. Even in the post-bop style of experimentation and individual flair, the audience must have a sense of connection with the music. The pieces on "Undercover" may have been fun to write and to perform. It is important to remember, however, that when writing an album you want to speak to the listener, not at them. This album has clearly pushed some boundaries from his first album, “Blackout Conception”, and it will be interesting to see where he takes his music from here.