Although she has released several trio albums, Helen Sung's 2014 album, Anthem for a New Day, is the pianist's first quintet album. As the 2007 Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition winner, Sung has displayed her virtuosic abilities backing such luminaries as trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and trumpeter Jon Faddis, just to name a few. Here, Sung takes center stage backed by a stellar cast of supporting players including saxophonist Seamus Blake, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Obed Calvaire, and others. In a jazz world split between more esoteric avant-garde albums and safe, standards-heavy albums, with Anthem for a New Day Sung finds the perfect balance between intellectual, exploratory improvisation and no-nonsense, finely tailored jazz arranging. On Anthem for a New Day, Sung primarily delves into a handful of new compositions, from the buoyant "Armando's Rhumba" to the expansive "Hidden," as well as several well-chosen covers, including a gorgeous "Never Let Me Go," featuring violinist Regina Carter, and the tense yet funky "Epistrophy." These are immaculate and organically arranged pieces, all played in a swinging, straight-ahead style that allows for all musicians involved to shine. All of which is even more impressive when you consider that Sung, a classical student in college, didn't seriously began exploring jazz until after graduating from the University of Texas in 1995. After years of paying her dues as a sideman and "shedding" her chops in trio settings, with Anthem for a New Day Sung has delivered the soundtrack to the next phase of her career as a jazz leader.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar