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Okkyung Lee: Nihm (2005)

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Okkyung Lee: Nihm No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Each of the ten tracks on Okkyung Lee's debut album sounds completely unique. Yet as Lee's cello and Doug Wieselman's clarinets fade away together—and Tim Barnes' and John Hollenbeck's percussion, mixed with Ikue Mori's electronics, rattle in an at times magical, at times frightening clamor—each track opens into the next with complete ease. Nihm undulates between psychological mayhem and organic serenity.

As a composer, Lee has the fearless ability to conjoin myriad textures, creating pieces of music with scarce melody but profound atmosphere. The opening track "On A Windy Day features the simple ringing of chimes against a low drone, which culminates in a clamoring orgy of steel and aluminum before yielding to the tribal echo of the hand drum. The visual movement of the piece is striking as the musicians create the sonic equivalent of a storm brewing.

A moment of passion is followed by calm on "Story of You and Me as Lee laces a deeply resounding ribbon around the delicate plucking of Shelley Burgon's soothing harp, but then "Anything You Say, Anything You Don't Say briskly arrives, resembling a relationship gone awry, or a mind gone askew. Sylvie Courvoisier culls rubbery, broken sounds from the strings of her piano that seem twisted by madness, while creaking, shattering noises fall all around. Thus begins the deranged apex of Nihm.

Wieselman's long clarinet tones attempt to quiet the psyche with "Returning Point, but spots of whirling whistles and soft cymbals add dashes of vibrant disarray to the tune's serene backbone as it leads into the strangest part of the album: "Home. This Korean children's song is an ethereal, space-less atmosphere created by Mori's extremely high-frequency electronics. Piercing sheaths of noise cut through the gentle piano passages and echoing electronics that resemble the microscopic sounds of the insect world. On "Deep Blue Knot, dense musical configurations result in violent texture as villainous cello combines with the ceaseless crashing of drums.

And then the album achieves serenity. Content in her solitude, Lee's solo cello breathes big on "Sky. For the final track, "Tuesday Morning, she links up with Wieselman's clarinet for a calming duo. Their contrasting tones enhance each other's impact, as mate can do to mate in the symbiotic world of planet Earth.

Track Listing: On a Windy Day; That Undeniable Empty Feeling; Story of You and Me; Anything You Say, Anything You (Don't) Say; Returning Point; Home; Deep Blue Knot; Closed Window; Sky; Tuesday Morning.

Personnel: Tim Barnes: Percussion, Drums; Shelley Burgon: Harp; Sylvie Courvoisier: Piano; Trevor Dunn: bass; John Hollenbeck: percussion, drums; Okkyung Lee: cello; Ikue Mori: electronics; Doug Wieselman: clarinet.

Record Label: Tzadik

Style: Modern Jazz


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