May 20, 2020
The Colliding Beings, Chi-Da
Audioguy GDC 0007
During its century of history improvised music has been aligned with other sounds from Rock and Blues to Latin and notated music. Recently reflecting changing demographics and the international spread of free music, a mixture of improvisation and Asian sounds has become commonplace. That said, The Colliding Beings, Chi-Da is probably the first disc to capture the interchange between free improv and traditional Korean musical storytelling called Pansori. Recorded in concert in Seoul, the CD’s five tracks match the vocalizing of Pansori. Master Il-dong Bae, with the instrumental expositions of Boston-based pianist Eunhye Jeong, plus fellow Koreans, cellist JI Park and drummer Soo Jin Suh, who also move between improvised and composed sounds.
Both Jeong who has performed with Wadada Leo Smith and Okkyung Lee, and Bae, who has collaborated with Simon Baker and Mark Dresser, are invested in stretching the definition of Pansori. Vocalizing is connected to traditional themes, while instrumentalists spontaneously create tones which counter the singer’s exposition as often as they accompany it. The creation of uncommon fusion is the end result. Putting aside language and cultural barriers, this sonic melding is logical since the roots of Pansori and Jazz are similar. Initially folk entertainment for the lower classes, the style became popular among Korean upper classes by the 20th Century and since then has had to compete with more commercial sounds to survive. Considering that a brief Pansori takes about three hours to perform and longer ones, six hours, these tracks in comparison are like tweets compared to books.
Unlike twitter’s limitations though, Chi-Da’s arrangements add more instrumental colors than could be found with Pansori’s traditional percussion accompaniment. Even with as uncomplicated an air as “Jeogori” guttural harumphs and ascending yelps from Bae meet bell-tolling percussion, a jittery cello continuum and kinetic piano rambles. When at midpoint the vocal cadences turn to screaming intensity, piano dynamics accelerate with passion and couple with cello squeaks and drums rolls to complete the transition. The singer’s emotions expressed throughout with a combination of mournful signs, near retches and high-pitched echoes bring instantaneous reactions from the others with strategies ranging from hunt-and-peck key clipping to metallic drum sparks and sliding cello glissandi.
Other tracks are more rhythmically oriented (the brief “Curtain Call”) or emphasize graphic-score suggested low-pitched keyboard clanks plus near-hysterical vocal cries (“The Sacrifice”), but the showpiece is the nearly 26-minute extended – or brief by traditional Pansori standards – “The Hope Landed”. Moving from impressionistic cello slithers and operatic-styled mountaintop yodels from Bae, instruments relax the exposition as the singer pitches his rough-hewn vocalizing up the scale. Here as on other tracks, Jeong positions a staccato counter theme of spills and splatters. Latterly echoing the vocalist’s repetitive chiming, the track’s final section is characterized by swift cello lines which jostle the vocalist’s anguished cries until funereal piano chording ends the section
The previous track’s evocation of “hope” doesn’t appear obvious in presentation. But perhaps that’s some of the intricacies of this set that are lost in translation. Overall The Colliding Beings, Chi-Da is compelling in itself, and as a blueprint for future cultural and sonic interweaving.
Track Listing: 1. Jeogori 2. Return to Life 3. The Hope Landed 4. The Sacrufice 5. Curtain Call
Personnel: Eunhye Jeong (piano); JI Park (cello); Soo Jin Suh (drums) and Il-dong Bae (Pansori vocals)