Liberated Gesture

SSC1717 2023-11-10

Track List

Hi-Tech Pros and Cons - 6:28
Character - 7:43
Naked Swimmer - 6:39
Didio - 8:31
She Goes to a Silent War - 9:07
Siren Days - 7:39
Liberated Gesture II. Arc - 8:35
Liberated Gesture III. Tightrope Walk - 5:22
Liberated Gesture IV. Hartung's Light - 6:31
Hassan's Fashion Magazine - 5:31


Yuhan Su - vibraphone
Matt Mitchell - piano
Caroline Davis - alto saxophone
Marty Kenney - acoustic - electric bass
Dan Weiss - drums

New York-based vibraphonist Yuhan Su, a Taiwanese native, has built a reputation as “among the most prominent contemporary voices” (Jazziz) on her instrument. Liberated Gesture, her second release for Sunnyside (and fourth album overall), follows up City Animals from 2018 with a new set of original compositions, a new band of heavyweights and a renewed outlook on art and possibility.

Joined by altoist Caroline Davis, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Dan Weiss, Su brings to life an ambitious set of music with the common theme of finding freedom. “Throughout the years,” she says, “I’ve come to realize that to be free, to break from all constraints and preconceived notions, is what I’ve been chasing all along. I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders, and as I opened my eyes again, I found nothing but wild and eerily beautiful things on the road in front of me. This album represents the freedom that I’ve been searching for, a more polished version of myself and a message about the time that we are in.”

Su wrote half of the repertoire in 2019 during a six-month residency at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, and the rest during the pandemic in Taiwan and New York. She formed the Liberated Gesture quintet in late 2021. “It’s such a privilege to work with these musicians, whose improvisational skills are out of this world,” she says. “It made me ready to throw myself into the unknown, and to reach higher.”

The title piece consists of three movements from Su’s “Liberated Gesture” suite, beginning with the balladic waltz “Arc,” moving to the angular multi-meter “Tightrope Walk” and concluding with the flowing, harmonically rich “Hartung’s Light.” The suite draws inspiration from the work of Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hartung, “who used his paintbrush to courageously express his freedom throughout his 70-year career,” Su remarks. “Didion,” inspired by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, is “a song based on the piano’s cluster arpeggios and a septuplet groove, like a river filled with sorrow, passion and honesty.” And the closing “Hassan’s Fashion Magazine” (the one track to feature Kenney on electric bass) pays homage to a series of “fierce portraits by photographer Hassan Hajjaj of people in Moroccan clothing doing striking poses.”

Su also composed an original poem, translated from Mandarin by Jiaowei Hu and recited by Caroline Davis, on “She Goes to a Silent War” (a dance/film version of which was funded by a 2023 award from New Music USA). “I grew up in a culture where women are taught to dress/act/be a certain way,” says Su, “which often limits people from reaching their full potential. I wrote this song for those who are brave enough to step outside the rules.”

There’s a vein of polyrhythmic complexity and dissonance coursing through the album, “a kind of writing with complex meters and improvising over atonal harmony on specific form,” Su remarks of her piece “Character.” The goal, she adds, is “to find liberation from within given limitations.” As gifted tenor saxophonist and composer Kevin Sun articulates in his perceptive liner notes, “Su lights her own path toward a deeper conception of these formidable higher order concerns while always enfolding the human touch in her music.”