Zodiac Suite: ReassuredJeong Lim Yang (Fresh Sound New Talent)by Stuart BroomerFew figures of her generation loom as large in current jazz circles as Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). In 2021, the European Umlaut Orchestra released Mary’s Ideas (Umlaut), a well-researched recreation of her compositions and orchestrations with distinctly contemporary soloists, and fellow pianist/composer Deanna Witkowski published Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul (Liturgical Press), the most recent book devoted to her life, career and spiritual journey. While Williams arranged for some notable big bands and mentored Monk and Bud Powell, her greatest individual moment came with her Zodiac Suite (1945), a 12-part work (of course), introduced as a largely improvised trio piece, then performed by a chamber orchestra at Town Hall, then by a full symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall. It represents perhaps the first genuine synthesis of jazz and classical elements, and remains an astonishing achievement for an artist dealing with the period’s racial and gender prejudices.Bassist Jeong Lim Yang is joined on Zodiac Suite: Reassured by pianist Santiago Leibson and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The three work their way around the zodiac, from “Aries” to “Pisces”, assuring a listener they’re approaching Williams on their own terms. Leibson’s approach to “Pisces” is both pianistic and encyclopedic, mixing stride, boogie and blues with splashes of chromatic color; she’s clearly a devotee of Williams’ original conception. On “Aries”, Yang asserts herself with enough percussive lyricism to suggest Mingus. The trio’s dialogues develop with the suite: the musicians combine styles but assert their own identities, Leibson’s virtuoso shifts in step with Yang’s melodic intensity, and all of it propelled by Cleaver’s inventive enthusiasm. The trio balances the identity of each component with a sense of the work’s larger form.The recording ends with Yang’s own “Madam, Thank You, Madam”, a sweetly playful piece that has its own complexity, matching her bass improvisation against the elliptical theme played by Leibson and Cleaver. What at first could seem an unusual project for a bassist ultimately makes a whole lot of sense.