Mototeru Takagi/Kim Dae Hwan/Choi Sun Bae

January 3, 2023

NoBusiness NBCD 157

Of all the players in major Asian countries who have experimented with free music, those in South Korea or the least known. Over the years only a few have dared to investigate the style which greatly contrasts with the country’s fashionable and profitable KPop and its offshoots. That’s what makes Seishin-Seido particularly valuable, poignant and also frustrating. Recorded at a 1995 Japanese concert the six selections offer music from three of the few Koreans associated with the sound. It’s valuable because almost none of this music gets to the West; it’s poignant because two of the three participants have since died; and it’s frustrating because, except for the final trio track, others are solos and duos. Korean free percussionist Kim Dae Hwan, who also recorded with Barre Phillips, died at 70 in 2003; tenor saxophonist Mototeru Takagi, who also played with Derek Bailey and was actually Japanese of Korean descent died at 61 in 2002. Trumpeter Choi Sun Bae, who is now 80 and often plays with Alfred 23 Harth in Korea, spent most of his career in Japanese groups.

Individually each players creates with skills similar to free improvisers elsewhere. Unaccompanied, Bae works his way to the stratosphere with screeching triplets and half-valve flutters and bites while vibrating a horizontal tone. Takagi’s wide saxophone extensions become deeper and darker as he changes tempos and fragments his line. At the same time his repeated theme variations add moderated logic to slurry outbursts. Sticking to resounding kettle drums plus metallic rattles and gong-like resonations from his cymbals, Kim’s exposition confirms his ability to enhance dynamics even if percussive diversity is provided by hand patting and drum sticks claps.

Most crucial to the session are the extended title track and the concluding “Step by Step”. Takagi’s Aylerian screech is heard on each with Bae’s flighty portamento and half-valves responding contrapuntally as both onslaught and obbligato. A skein of lyricism also affects “Seishin-Seido“ in spite of brass shrills and reed snarls. Drum clatters and cymbal pops are more evident on the final piece with Bae’s flamboyance in producing dog-whistle squeaks matching any of Takagi multiphonics. Summing up. the three reach a climax of pounding percussion ruffs, segmented brass flutters and split tone vibrations.

Seishin-Seido is an excellent introduction to dedicated Korean free music. It’s too bad that folks didn’t hear it during Kim’s and Takagi’s lifetimes.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Seishin – Seido 2. Natural Sound 3. Remember 4. Ethyopia 5. Life Cycle 6. Step by Step

Personnel: Choi Sun Bae (trumpet); Mototeru Takagi (tenor saxophone) and Kim Dae Hwan (percussion)