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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.

The final number—an adventurous, extended composition—began 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 Kim—alone 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.

Yuri Honing

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 guitarists—or 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 years—brought 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 DiCastri first recorded together as P.A.F. The three Italians don't convene with great frequency—and in fact have only recorded twice—so 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 piano—which for the most part he hammered like a demon—and 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 number—a highly melodic ballad—Fresu 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 set—was 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 sextet—Heath 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 tool—the Heath Brothers Sextet would have done just fine.

Albert 'Tootie' Heath

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