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2010 Jarasum Jazz Festival, Gapeyong, South Korea

2010 Jarasum Jazz Festival, Gapeyong, South Korea
Ian Patterson By

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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. In—South Korea's premier concert promoter—took 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 Pukhan—which oddly means Northern Korea—about 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 Jarasum—Turtle Island—owing 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 In—Young 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 Woong—won Han, and well crafted solos from pianist Seok—cheol Yun and saxophonist Jong—hyeon Yu. Han is an exciting drummer to watch—though in no way showy—and 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.

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