2010 Jarasum Jazz Festival, Gapeyong, South Korea
Jarasum International Jazz Festival
Jarasum Island, Gapeyong, South Korea
October 15-17, 2010
Jarasum International Jazz Festival was almost washed out by rain in its first edition in 2004, and after only three editions founder and director J.J. InSouth Korea's premier concert promotertook the bold step of selling his house to meet debts and keep the festival afloat. His determination and faith have been rewarded, as in just seven years Jarasum has become the largest jazz festival in Asia and one of the best attended in the world. Around 150,000 people attended last year's three-day festival, and all tickets for this year's festival were sold out before the doors even opened.
There is a real hunger for live jazz in South Korea and Jarasum has done more than most to satisfy the demand. Over the last six editions Jarasum has hosted international acts of the caliber of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, John Scofield & Joe Lovano, Hiram Bullock, Dennis Chambers, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, Randy Brecker, Richard Galliano, Joshua Redman, Richard Bona, The Bad Plus, Joe Zawinul, Stefano Bollani, Charles Lloyd, John Abercrombie, Omar Sosa, Jean-Michel Pilc, Enrico Rava and Chris Potter. In spite of the impressive roster of international artists who have performed at Jarasum, the festival does a great deal to promote South Korean artists, and last year 50 of the 77 bands were local.
The festival site is on the island of Jarasum which rests in the river Pukhanwhich oddly means Northern Koreaabout an hour and a half's drive outside Seoul, in the small town of Gapeyong. Surrounded on all sides by dark green hills which fold down to the river to form a natural bowl, it's an idyllic spot to host a celebration of music. The island hasn't been know as Jarasum for very long, and it has gone by a number of different names over the years, reflecting its history; it was once called Peanut Island due to the former peanut plantation, and it has also been known as Chinese island in reference to the occupying Chinese army stationed there in less peaceful times. In 1987, the authorities decided that it was time to settle on one name only, and after some head scratching it was agreed that the island would henceforth be named JarasumTurtle Islandowing to the island's shape which resembles a turtle's head and neck.
From left: Jong-hyeon Yu, In-Young Kim
If the name has stuck, then it has much to do with the enormous success of the Jarasum International Jazz Festival. Jarasum is synonymous with jazz for many Koreans, and the significance of the festival can be seen in the local town where permanent monuments of jazz instruments announce that here, in the otherwise unremarkable town of Gapeyong, one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world is held.
As has been tradition at Jarasum for the past few years the festival got under way with the winner of the previous year's Jazz Concourse. Bassist InYoung Kim led a new line-up from the one with which he won the talent competition last year, and his quartet was remarkably tight and assured, given that it had only come together less than three months before. A vibrant set of straight ahead, post bop numbers featured notable interplay from Kim and drummer Woongwon Han, and well crafted solos from pianist Seokcheol Yun and saxophonist Jonghyeon Yu. Han is an exciting drummer to watchthough in no way showyand his drum solo exhibited quite personal accents. Saxophonist Yu also revealed an imaginative approach to his playing, weaving endlessly new patterns in the vein of Sonny Rollins, though with a sharper, keener sound closer to Branford Marsalis
As a unit, the influence of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner could be discerned, particularly in the arrangements and in the chords of pianist Yun. Switching to Nord electric piano, Yun led a funky, groove-based number whose tempo ebbed and flowed before reaching a rousing climax which bounced back off the surrounding hills in dramatic echo, like call and response between band and nature.
Throughout the set there was a constant flow in dynamics which kept the music vital and on the edge, and a fine balance between solos and group interplay which was impressive.
The final numberan adventurous, extended compositionbegan in intimate dialog between Kim's arco bass playing and Han's on mallets, cymbals trembling. When Kim returned both hands to the strings he demonstrated a strength matched by his melodic touch. Yu entered cautiously at first, but his tenor sound soon ascended, growing with the momentum of the rhythm section and peppering his fluid runs with screeches and honks like gospel exclamations. The quartet wound down slowly, with Yu's light touch on piano lending a pleasingly delicate air to the sound, and it was left to Kimalone with his bow once again to close out a song which simmered and cooked, just like the entire set.
One of the many pleasing aspects of Jarasum was the juxtaposition of bands; following the straight-ahead, Coltrane-fuelled In-Young Kim Quartet, saxophonist Yuri Honing's Wired Paradise threw all attempts at categorization out of the proverbial window with its mixture of jazz, rock and psychadelia. Honing's source of inspiration is perhaps as much punk as it is jazz, though his own melodic, pure tenor sound is not unlike that of Jan Garbarek. The energetic set was almost entirely made up of tunes from White Tiger (Jazz in Motion, 2010), music inspired by Indian novelist Aravind Adiga's wonderful novel White Tiger, (Atlantic Books, 2008) which won the coveted Booker Prize. What Adiga's book and Honing's music have in common is the sound of surprise in the narrative, and a compelling vibrancy.
Opening with the slow burning "Zitelle," Honing's tenor sang over a slow dub-like groove courtesy of bassist Mark Haanstra and long-standing drummer Joost Lijbaart, paving the way for Frank Mobus' angular guitar solo. This languorous, atmospheric set opener was the perfect accompaniment to the retreating sun and the encroaching darkness. "Kaiser Joe," had an overtly rock aesthetic and Haanstra's churning bass evoked English punk-rock band The Stranglers. Punk also colored the thunderous "Meet Your Demons," a charging, double-time romp which Honing dedicated to iconic The Stooges singer Iggy Pop. Honing and second guitarist, Keisuke Matsuno shredded wildly in turn on a powerful cameo of a number which barely stumbled over the two-minute mark. By way of contrast, the ambient "Tensing Norgay" featured a more pensive Honing.
The elegant, slow grooves and the burning intensity that are two sides to the music of Wired Paradise came together on "Rollo Thomasi." Underpinned by Haanstra's profound bass, Matsuno took center stage, carving out a serpentine solo of a blue tonality. Few bands these days employ duel guitaristsor duel anything for that matter but the combination of Matsuno and the edgier, quasi-psychedelic guitar of Stef Van Es brings a certain breadth to the music and more colors to the sound.
Original takes on David Bowie's "Space Oddity," a gorgeous reworking of Bjork's "Isobel" and the Nina Simone song "Wild is The Wind"which Honing as been playing in his trio for 20 yearsbrought an end to an engrossing performance.
The official opening ceremony to the 7th Jarasum International Jazz Festival followed Yuri Honing's Wired Paradise. Several big cheeses were invited by festival director J.J. In to bang the enormous Buddhist temple drum that had been rolled into the center of the stage, and thus declared the festival open. The mayor of the Gapeyong, Lee Sin-Yong, the provincial governor, Kim Moon-Soo and the senator of the National Assembly, Chung Byung-kuk, all stepped up to bang the drum and fireworks then burst above the main stage accompanied by John William's Star Wars theme.
From left: Antonello Salis, Furio di Castri, Paulo Fresu
It's twelve years since trumpeter Paolo Fresu, accordionist Antonello Salis and bassist Furio di Castri first recorded together as P.A.F. The three Italians don't convene with great frequencyand in fact have only recorded twiceso there was a sense of occasion about this concert. The sprightly beginning to the set, with Salis charging up and down his keys as though his hands were on fire, with di Castri and Fresu giving swinging chase, may have been designed to combat the chill, for the evening temperature drops like a stone in South Korea at this time of year.
There was no need for a drummer in this trio as all three musicians carried out percussive duties, and with some ingenuity it has to be said. One the second number, Salis moved a plastic bag back and forwards inside his piano, simulating most effectively the sound of brushes. Bassist di Castro also summoned brushes, simply by rubbing his hand in circular motion on the body of his upright. Various objet trouve, from metal rings on the piano strings, a cloth to dampen the sound of the bass strings and more plastic bag trickery were employed to create the illusion of a percussionist. It was entertaining for the audience and a help to the festival organizers who saved on a drummer's airfare.
Salis switched between pianowhich for the most part he hammered like a demonand his more usual bandoneon, which brought an unmistakable southern European air to the trio. Fresu for his part played sparingly and melodically, delighting the crowd with one sustained note which lasted a minute or so, as di Castro tapped the bass body like a cajon and Salis ripped wild cries from his bandoneon. On the sets slowest numbera highly melodic balladFresu adopted a mute, and on the funky set closer, he employed echo as he and Salis traded fast-back and forth, with the pivotal di Castro right at the heart of the action. The roar of the crowd made an encore inevitable, and the three amici obliged with a short tune in which melody as it had been throughout the setwas the chief protagonist.
The last concert on the main stage on day one was the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars featuring The Heath Brothers. Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath and drummer Albert 'Tootie' Heath are jazz royalty, even if the National Endowment for the Arts has only honored the elder of the brothers as Jazz Master. Miles Davis and John Coltrane were both admirers of Jimmy Heath, and Gillespie himself said of Heath:"If you know Jimmy Heath you know bop." 'Tootie' Heath too, has walked with giants, playing with John Coltrane, Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone and Benny Golson.
What's in a name? The Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars has been going since the late '90s and has featured a veritable who's who of jazz over the last dozen years, including Gillespie alumni like James Moody and Paquito D'Rivera. Jimmy Heath and bassist John Lee, however, were the only Gillespie alumni in this sextetHeath having played in Gillespie's big band between 1949 -50, and Lee joining Gillespie in the 1980s which arguably makes the use of Gillespie's name little more than a marketing toolthe Heath Brothers Sextet would have done just fine.
Albert 'Tootie' Heath
Tight as it was, this sextet had the light-hearted air of, well, an all-star jam band, and apart from some corny goofingwhich Dizzy was never shy ofthere was little by way of resemblance to a Gillespie ensemble other than the Gillsepie/Charlie Parker repertory. The burning intensity of Gillespie's small ensembles was somehow lacking. There was some fine soling to be sure, particularly from alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, from trumpeter Greg Gisbet and pianist Benny Green whose version of "Misty" injected pleasing contrast to the brass. Jimmy Heathwho is now 84may not have the lung capacity of yesteryear but he can still tell a compelling story on his saxophone. Even if the volume he could muster paled slightly in comparison to that of Hart and Gisbet, his few solo spots were lessons in economy, phrasing and emotive power. 'Tootie' Heath75kept time immaculately and his playing was funky at times, and in the pocket. When the ensemble stripped down to a trio of drums, Lee on bass and Benny Green on piano, 'Tootie' Heath came more into his own, working his kit with the guile of half a century, and providing one of the set's highlights.
Jimmy and Tootie Heath received a huge, deserved ovation at the end of the set, recognition no doubt, from a knowledgeable jazz crowd, of their great contribution to jazz. Maybe the NEA people haven't seen 'Tootie' Heath' perform in a while.
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.
A lack of talent was no barrier to participation, and Stage 15 was a popular venue which proved to be a lot of fun.
At the Festival Lounge stage, local eight-piece band Los Amigos gave a convincing performance of Brazilian, Afro-Caribbean and salsa rhythms with a barrage of percussion and vocal harmonies winning over a sizeable crowd which was in picnic mode on the grass. Although it was a very pleasant way to kick-start the afternoon, this band would have gone down a storm at the Part Stage in the wee hours of the morning. Next up was the Jaume Vilaseca Quartet from Barcelona, featuring Ravi Chary on sitar. From the opening number, which featured Victor de Diego on a lovely, lilting flute solo, it was clear that the pianist and leader has a decidedly Latin vein in his playing, which alongside Ramon Diaz's Latin accents on drums combined to color the music of the band. Over the course of more than forty years since guitarist Paco de Lucia and saxophonist Pedro Iturralde married flamenco and jazz, Spanish jazz has slowly courted flamencoas well as Latin music to create a jazz which is fairly unique in the world. It was no surprise to see de Diaz switching from mallets to take to the cajon on the atmospheric "Mombai," with the addition of Ravi Chary on sitar adding a touch of the exotic.
From left: Ravi Chary, Ramon Diaz
Chary traded with the saxophone of Diego on a particularly Iberian sounding piece, and sitar and cajon united again to great effect on "Circles." With Chary dropping out, an exciting call and response between Vilaseca and de Diego raised the temperature over Dia's galloping cajon. The quartet sounded equally convincing on the slower numbers, and Vilaseca's extended piano intro on "Canizas" was lyrical and seductive. The quartet became a quintet once more on the final number with the return to the stage of Chary. The sitarist took a short but dazzling solo before leaving the reins to Diego, who blew hard over Diaz's crashing cymbals and the propulsive bass of Dick Them, closing out a pulsating, engaging performance of some enchantment.
Is it really a quarter of a century since Stanley Jordan burst into the spotlight with Magic Touch, (Blue Note, 1985) dazzling everybody with his two-handed tapping technique, and helping relaunch Blue Note records at the same time? Jordan was hardly the first to employ the methodtapping has existed in various musical genres for centuriesand in jazz, guitarist Barney Kessel employed this technique half a century ago. However, it is unlikely that any of the progenitors of tapping could play three guitar necks simultaneously as Jordan used to do in the 1990sor, as he demonstrated here at Jarasum to the amazement of the crowd, play guitar with one hand while executing piano runs with the other.
Since his debut release, Touch Sensitive (Independent Production, 1982) Jordan has played an eclectic songbook which ranges from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, to classical music. Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" Was given a radical work over and Jordan demonstrated some of his most outrageous chops of the hour-long set with the notes tumbling from his guitar like torrential rain. Switching genres and centuries, Jordan's pretty interpretation of the andante from W.A. Mozart's Piano Concerto #21 from State of Nature (Mack Avenue Revue, 2008) was as relaxed and relatively straightforward as his playing got.
Moving to the piano, Jordan impressed not only with his simultaneous left-hand guitar, right-hand piano duet but with the fluidity and nuance of his piano playing. Revisiting Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence," the melody flickered in and out of broader, free improvisations which crossed back and forth between jazz and classical leanings. A lovely piano/guitar version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Insensatez" was opportunity for Jordan to reveal the subtlety of which he is capable, investing emotional weight at the expense of technique.
Returning to the guitar, Jordan treated the audience to some blues, and a classical intro to Led Zeppelin's classic "Stairway to Heaven," a crowd pleaser which Jordan has rarely abandoned in his live shows since he first recorded it twenty five years ago. At times it was a task to know which hand was leading and which was comping; Jordan can probably play guitar while riding a bicycle too. When the closing notes arrived, delicately offered up to the crowd, Jordan exited to a rapturous reception.
One of the advantages of having Stanley Jordan on the bill is that no matter what music follows it is going to sound radically different. There was little that was radical about Kyle Eastwood's quintet, which despite boasting a front line of trumpet and saxophone, veered towards a contemporary brand of jazz which hardly referenced the past at all. Eastwood is an accomplished bassist, and whether on upright or electric he impressed. The quintet opened with a funk workout with Graeme Blevins saxophone bouncing off the surrounding hills. An intimate piano-based piece, "Letters from Iwo Jima"co-written with father, and film director Clintsaw Eastwood switch to electric bass, but teasingly, this lyrical number faded out a little too quickly.
On Dixieland jazz bassist Bob Haggart's "Big Noise From Winnetka" Eastwood switched between upright and electric and engaged in an absorbing duet with Martyn Kaine on drums. The pace of the tune picked up and Graeme Flowers then let rip on trumpet. Called back for an encore by the ever enthusiastic crowd, Eastwood introduced a new composition, "A Marciac" which brought solid closing statements from all.
Trombone player Nils Langdren led his Funk Unit through a set which had the crowd on its feet clapping and dancing long before the inevitable encore. "Funk All Night" set the tone for the set with the two saxophones of Jonas Wall and Magnus Langdren, the leader's trombone and keyboardist Sebastian Studnitzky doubling on trumpet blowing powerful unison riffs which brought to mind Tower of Power.
In a band which was utterly watertight, there was plenty of room for the individuals to shine, none more so than the leader, whose rasping 'bone solos provided some of the best displays of virtuosity of the three days. Magnus Langdren also made notable contributions on flute, exercising a tone which borrows much from Roland Kirk. In one memorable moment Magnus was joined by Wall on flute and the two played either side of Nils on a big number driven by the deeply funky unit of the wonderfully named bassist Magnum Coltrane, and drummer Robert Ikiz. The crowd roared its approval.
A couple of vocal numbers had the crowd singing alongsomething for which the Jarasum crowd needed little encouragement--- and by the end of the set the entire main stage audience was on its feet grooving to the funk.
The second day's headliner The Watts Project took to the stage and the leader, drummer Jeff Tain Watts greeted the crowd thus: "Now you're gonna' hear some jazz." It was no lie. As though to prove a point, the band kicked off at a furious lick, with first Terence Blanchard on trumpet and then Branford Marsalis on sax making opening statements of staggering power. With Robert Hurst on bass making up the quartet, this promised to be an incendiary performance and it lived up to its billing.
Jeff 'Tain Watts
These musicians have played with each other for something approaching 30 years, though as Watts informed the crowd this was only the second time performing this music, largely taken from Watts. (Dark Key Music, 2010) All the same, the interplay, whilst seemingly effortless, contained a spark which was not heard elsewhere to quite the same effect during the three days. Whether playing straight ahead or visiting the blues, the Watts Project swung hard. On "Katrina James" Hurst's funky bass and Watts crisp beat drove the composition as Marsalis and Blanchard carved out impeccable solos in turn. From his stool Watts directed affairs with steam rising off the top of his head; smoking indeed.
On "Dancin' 4 Chicken" Hurst began on arco before switching back to two hands and injecting a tremendous drive into the number which featured a blistering solo from Blanchard. The trumpeter won a 2010 Grammy for Best Solo on the CD recording of this track, but any Blanchard solo is an aural fest, and he was in wonderful tune at Jarasum; his playing on "Dancin' 4 Chicken" brought the crowd to its feet in applause. There was no sitting down as Watt's solo also had the crowd in raptures; little wonder reallyfew drummers pummel their kit quite as thrillingly and rhythmically as Watts. The crowd was similarly moved during an electrifying exchange between Blanchard and Marsalis and in truth the excitement never abated from start to finish of a buoyant set.
For the encore, the crowd exploded in a roar of appreciation for "Mo Better Blues." After the concert Watts explained that the Koreans like the tune as the melody sounds like a popular Korean folk song which has black keys. How did Watts know that folk song? He had, he explained, played the tune in eighth grade, proving that what goes round half way round the world comes round the other way. The second encore, a swinging New Orleans number with a beautiful motif brought final, killing solos from Marsalis and Blanchard, and a slow but ever-so swinging solo from Hurst. Returning to the head, Marsalis carried the melody increasingly softly, and to the obvious pleasure of Watts, a section of the crowd picked it up and sang it all the way home.
The reaction of the crowd to The Watts Project was a very clear indication that the Jarasum audience is highly appreciative of high caliber jazz, and it is unlikely that Watts and co. will have received such a vociferous reception on their tourone more usually reserved for rock stars.
The question was, how do you possibly follow The Watts Project? Something radically different was required, and over at the Jazz Cube venue lay the answer.
TaeHwan Kang is a seventy four-year old saxophonist who has been a leading figure in the avant-garde jazz scene for more than forty years. Once a member of the US Army Jazz Band stationed in South Korea, he ventured into experimental jazz in the 1960s and developed something of a cult following in avant-jazz circles in Japan and Europe. He stopped listening to any music other than his own in order to develop a pure sound. At Jarasum, Kang appeared solo before a packed tent, and, sitting cross-legged on the stage, proceeded to give a recital which seemed like a continuous variation on a single note.
Circular breathing enabled Kang to extend a note as long as he wanted, and his unusual lateral tonguing technique, his application of quarter notes and arresting harmonics combined to produce a strangely hypnotic listening experience. The performance was divided by pauses, or rests, which were filled with warm applause from a rapt audience. Kang's improvisations stemmed from a single sustained note, raising or lowering the pitch, riffing cyclically on a few notes and playing counter melody or drone simultaneously. Leaning over to his side from time to time, as though accompanied by some personal gravity, Kang drew sound from his saxophone which was both harsh and strangely meditative at the same time. His music, his sound, may repel some people, but it also has the power to seduce those who submit to its rhythms and to carry them on a journey into a very personal space.
The Norwegian trio led by pianist Helge Lien was next on the Jazz Cube stage and provided inevitably strong contrast to the solo explorations of TaeHwan Kang. "Axis of Free Will" began the show with the kind of intensity more usual of a climax, with drummer Per Oddvar and bassist Frode Berg supporting Lien's piano vamp with an enveloping wall of sound through which Lien unleashed intermittent sharp runs.
The trio maintained the intensity on "The Small Bear," with Lien's dissonant clusters and rapid sweeps of the keys rising from the rhythm barrage. Even when the impressive Berg took a solo on nhis upright the tension barely dipped, finding release only with the conclusion of the song. It wasn't all thunder and lightning though, as the neoclassical "Hym" changed the atmosphere with its folksy melancholy and bluesy swing reminiscent of Swedish pianist Jan Johansson. The distillation of folk, classical and hymnal roots which colors much Scandinavian jazz was also heard on the beautifully nostalgic "It Is What It Is But It Is."
The melody of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" bookended more intense improvisational terrain and an absorbing set ended with "Natsukashii," a lovely ballad which reinforced the impression that Helge Lien is a composer of some note.
The final day of Jarasum presented the fourth annual Jazz Concourse, which gives the best South Korean jazz talent the chance to compete for the honor of taking the opening slot on the main stage at the following year's festival. Held in a tree-lined square in the center of Gapeyong town, the fair-sized crowd that gathered was treated to some impressive music by four bands.
Saxophonist Hyunpill Shinwho has studied Jazz Composition and Performance at Berkleeled a quartet of guitar, bass and drums through a set of original compositions which visited post-bop, blues and slightly avant-garde territory. Whether on tenor or soprano he exhibited great assurance and agility and was a worthy winner of the Best Soloist award.
At eighteen years of agethe youngest of the four band leaderspianist Jaehun Kang showed a maturity beyond his years at the head of a cohesive, intuitive trio. It was a brave move to present such classics as "Maiden Voyage," "How Insensitive" and "Pinocchio" but he rose to the challenge of personalizing the tunes through interesting arrangements. Technically, his solos were very impressive and he also proved to be a subtle accompanist.
Pianist Oh Eunhye may have finished runner-up in the Jazz Concourse but her wonderful compositions and fluid, swinging style marked her out as one of the very best pianists of the entire Jarasum festival and surely a talent to watch closely.
The winner, however, was twenty two-year-old pianist/keyboardist NaHyun Kim, who led a fusion band which veered towards an experimental rock aesthetic. The band had a distinctive sound and the music bordered on the epic at times. Kim's bold, original compositions were highly atmospheric, particularly the set closer, "Impression," which had the engulfing intensity of King Crimson}. That Jarasum will open the 2011 edition with NaHyun Kim on the main stage is a positive sign of the festival's openminded approach to presenting creative music to the public.
Back at the main stage, four very different bands played to the weekend's biggest crowd, beginning with Swiss trio Rosconi. In the last fifteen years or so, beginning with the Esbjorn Svensson Trio and the likes of The Bad Plus and the Neil Cowley Trio, the possibilities of the piano trio have been redefined. Rosconiled by pianist Stefan Rosconiis another trio which defies simple categorization. Rosconi, bassis Fabian Gisler and drummer Claudio Struby stormed though material from their CD It's a Sonic Life (Sony, 2010) which covers songs by rock band Sonic Youth. Although playing acoustic instruments, the band delivered its particular brand of jazz-rock, or power pop with a volume that was matched by its energy, to the obvious delight of the crowd.
Brazilian singer/pianist Tania Maria may not win many polls as best pianist but there are few pianists quite like her. Her playing is utterly distinctive and her punchy, percussive style and her passionate vocal delivery of crowd-pleasing Brazilian standards contrasted with a lot of the more cerebral piano trios of the festival. Her whistling in unison with the piano melody, her warm persona and the crowd sing-along took some of the chill out the evening air.
From left: Lee Pan Geun, festival dierctor J.J. In
The festival closed with in party mode with smooth jazz/funk saxophonist Candy Duffer, but the most interesting of the final day's bands was undoubtedly the Lee Pan Geun Project. A quintet of five of South Korea's finest young jazz musicians assembled to pay homage to Lee Pan Geun, a legendary figure in Korean jazz. Geun's compositions have influenced several generations of jazz musicians, yet he has never recorded. A whitehaired Geunnow in his mid-seventieswas presented to the crowd by festival director J.J. In and received a great ovation. The quintet then performed modern arrangements of Geun's compositions from the 1950s and 1960s, compositions which proved to be among the most original and exciting of the weekend.
As much as Jarasum does to promote up-and-coming local talent, J.J. In is also conscious of the need to recognize those who paved the way. Without a doubt, the music of Tae Hwan Kang and Lee Pan Geun proved to be two of the festival highlights. With Jarasum initiating moves to record Geun's music, he may yet reach an international audience with his compositions.
A fireworks display signaled the end of Jarasum International Jazz Festival 2010, a truly memorable edition which succeeded in presenting jazz in pretty much all its wonderful guises. The appearance of so many impressive local bands also gave credence to the notion held by many here that South Korean jazz is in a time of renaissance.
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