2010 Jarasum Jazz Festival, Gapeyong, South Korea
There were a total of eight stages around the festival site, all within a ten to fifteen minute walk of each other and the last concerts went on until approaching three o'clock in the morning. The Jazz Cubea marquee with a capacity for around 600 peoplehosted a number of memorable concerts over the three days, beginning with acoustic guitar duo Nostalgia, who took to the stage at just after eleven pm. Onsic Park and Tea-Jung Kim gave a tasteful recital which stylistically walked a line between classical and pop. Park, who is Kim's teacher, took lead for the majority of the set while his student accompanied. The empathy between the two was evident and they rarely communicated visually, running through a set which was mostly taken from the duo's CD Nostalgia (C&L Music, 2009).
The set was comprised for the most part of Park's original compositions, with the exception of "Autumn Leaves" and Luiz Bonfa's "Black Orpheus." Park is a composer of delicate, lyrical compositions and graceful melodies, and a wonderful technician to boot. Standout tracks included the lovely "Waltz for Nabi," which owed a debt to pianist Bill Evans, the breezy "Picnic on a Sunny Road" with its catchy motif and the beautiful, mid-tempo "Train Trip." With Park playing lead melody and soloing, Kim kept immaculate rhythm, though his counter melodies brought an additional depth to strong tunes. Only on "Nostalgia" did Kim take center stage and demonstrate more fully a technique on a par with that of his teacher. A highly enjoyable set closed with an encore of a crowdpleasing blues sung in Korean and with Park taking another fine solo.
From left: Tea-Jung Kim, On-sic Park
Over on the Party Stage Magnus Lungdren's Batacuda Jazz was stirring up the revelers, but at a festival where so much good Korean music was on offer it seemed a shame to pass up the chance to check out some of the interesting figures on the contemporary jazz scene. Back at the Jazz Cube pianist SongJun Seo gave an impressive performance at the head of a trio consisting of WooYoung Song on bass and Phil Yoon on drums. Seo is one of an increasing number of South Korean jazz musicians who have made their way to the States in recent years where his considerable talent as a composer, as well as a pianist, has led to collaborations with some notable American musicians.
Drawing heavily from Portrait, (PonycanyonKorea, 2009) which featured Eric Harland on drums and Vincent Archer on bass, the trio opened with a dancing, lively version of Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile." The tempo for the majority of the set was fast, with Song's charging bass and Yoon's busy drumming supporting Seo's explorations admirably. There was swing on "System's Blue" with Seo demonstrating a lovely bluesy vein in his runs, a Spanish flavor on the memorable "Portrait" which had more than a hint of Dominican pianist Michel Camilo flair about it, and classical elegance on Fredric Chopin's "Prelude No. 4 in E minor." This latter piece was a highly personal interpretation, inspired by the beauty of the melody, though with the drums a blur and Seo stretching out in dramatic fashion.
Chick Corea's "Spain" provided a rousing finale to an absorbing exercise in trio interplay, with Wong's drums following the famous piano melody note for note at the beginning before the song loosened up and some firey collective improvisation followed. Reportedly, there was still music blazing at the Party Stage, but at going on for three in the morning SongJun Seo's excellent trio seemed like the appropriate point to call it a night.
With the main stage program beginning each day at five in the afternoon there was the chance on day two to walk around the festival village and soak up some of the atmosphere, as well as catch some of the bands playing the other stages in the early afternoon. Bicycles, tandems and tricycle carts eased their way around the festival site and the food and drink stalls were doing good trade. For those who were looking for alternative diversion there was the rare chance to whack a huge blob of rice dough with a wooden sledge hammer. For people with less energy and a more artistic bent, one stall invited you to try your hand at the art of Korean calligraphy. A mobile library van was parked up for the three days but in truth it wasn't doing nearly as much business as the drum kit tent, where anybody could sit on the stool, pick up sticks and thrash around. A more sophisticated do-it-yourself set-up, Stage 15, existed by the main entrance, where drums, keyboards, guitar and bass guitar beckoned volunteers to come up and play for fifteen minutes of fame. Dasha Logan, vocalist with Malaysian band Oceans of Fire, which was making its international debut at Jarasum, kindly lent her soulful voice to a blues jam by a group of struggling amateurs, and almost saved the day.