Okkyung Lee – Cheol-Kkot-Sae


CD – Tzadik

Okkyung Lee is an improvisational-style, South Korean, cello player. This eclectic artist moved, in 2000, to New York, and since then has started to work following a lot of inspirations, both solo and in partnerships with other artists, in between jazz, Western classical music and productions characterized by the exotic sounds of her native land. After 30 albums, Okkyung Lee has organized a compelling collective. She called the free form saxophonist John Butcher, the traditional drummer Jae-Hyo Chang and Lass Marhaug, a versatile musician, focused on eccentric electronics, at ease with loops, digital sounds and at the same time an extreme noise lover. Not fully satisfied with this selection, she added the drummer Ches Smith and the bass player John Edwards. The combo is completed by Song-Hee Kwon at vocal, a singer of pansori, a genre of Korean musical narration, characterized by the use of the Buk drum. Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel-Flower-Bird) is a 40 minutes long suite and was commissioned from Lee by the German radio station SWR2. Live recorded at Donaueschingen festival, it was produced by John Zorn, a master of contamination genres, the founder and art director of Tzadik, the label under which this album was released. The mix between electronics, noise and improvisation, Korean traditional music, melodies and dissonances doesn’t leave the listener indifferent. The result is multiple combinations and magics, not fully unusual but definitely distinctive, articulated between primitivism, contemporaneity, poetry and popular narration. It’s an up and down movement of overlapping and ritual passages, not always clear and predictable in their complexity but made with coherence and an undeniable value. “As a child in Korea my formal musical training was largely based on the European classical tradition and its ideal sense of beauty,” she says in the album notes. She also highlights that the recovery of her native old traditions only happened later, as an undeniable sign impossible to cancel and refreshed by the hybridization with other experiences, because eventually there is not a real nucleus of the own identity and all the things related to any art form are in continuous change.