2010 Jarasum Jazz Festival, Gapeyong, South Korea
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, 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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