Park Jiha – Communion
Glitterbeat – 2 March 2018
It’s not every day you get to review a release that uses traditional Korean instruments in an eclectic, experimental setting, connecting quite different musical approaches and styles in a bold new release.
Park Jiha is an accomplished player of traditional instruments piri (similar to the oboe), saenghwaeng (mouthorgan) and yanggeum (hammered dulcimer). After her studies she founded the ensemble su:m which quickly became a force in neo-traditional Korean music. For Communion, her first solo album, she chose a different path, joining forces with John Bell (vibraphone) and Kim Oki (bass clarinet, saxophone).
The striking thing about most Asian music is its zen-like quality, the way in which it seems to move and stand still at the same time. Tempos are often slow, and harmonic movement and resolution in the traditional Western sense are far less important than creating a tranquil soundscape. That same energy and approach is very much present in Communion. One could say this is traditional Korean music brought into the modern day, building a bridge between past and present.
There are only seven songs on this release with an average track length between five and nine minutes, so this is not for those with a short attention span.
“Throughout the Night” is a fantastic opener, starting out with breathing sounds of bass clarinet, quickly joined by the saenghwaeng, playing a simple yet beguiling melody. The track unfolds slowly in a minimalist duet between Korean and western wind instrument.
The title track “Communion” starts with vibraphone, is then joined by bass clarinet and piri, in another masterfully understated piece that is slightly reminiscent of Philip Glass-style serial music.
One of the most minimalist pieces on the album is “Sounds Heard from the Moon”. It is played entirely on the yanggeum, a Korean hammered dulcimer, and slowly grows from a single staccato note with vague static noises in the background. The staccato note becomes the foundation of a gentle harmonic progression, until the chords disappear, with just the single note remaining, gliding ever closer to harsh dissonance before coming to a halt. A masterful exercise in understatement, dynamics, and harmonic inventiveness.
“The Longing of the Yawning Divide” was inspired by a rehearsal in an abbey in Leuven, Belgium, the place I was born, so of course that got my attention. The music sounds inspired by medieval ecclesiastic music, but reduced to its bare essence, featuring a meandering ornate melody on the saenghwang accompanied by clouds of minimal vibraphone chords.
Communion is an excellent solo debut by an artist who is bringing the rich tradition of Korean folk music into the modern age by combining Korean end Western instruments and skillfully incorporating experimental structures and ideas, without ever losing the connection to tradition. Stark, hypnotic, minimalist, full of rich hidden beauty: if you like your music adventurous and off the beaten path, you’ll be delighted by Communion.
Order via: Bandcamp (Digital, CD, Vinyl)