Sungjae Son ‘Near East Quartet’ CD (ECM) 3/5

ECM has regularly delved into the ongoing relationship between world roots music and jazz, but the music of the Near East, here that of Korea, is a new phenomenon to these ears at least. While the folk tradition of Korea (both south and north? One is not quite sure from the limited information at the time of review, though south is most likely) is most certainly evoked, this album, recorded in the southern capital of Seoul, has more of an acoustic jazz with the occasional jazz-rock touch to it, and is best approached as a bona fide jazz recording. In fact, South Korean pansori vocalist Yulhee Kim is on hand on various pieces, and it is, moreover, her soft delivery combined with the guitar of Suwuk Chung, who has definite echoes of Bill Frisell, that impresses most on the sparse, ‘Mot’, deploying minimalist guitar in the intro and adding bass clarinet and vocals. Indeed, the dissonant sound of Chung’s guitar added to the saxophone of the leader (who operates also on clarinet) works a treat and creates attractive layered texture to the opening number, ‘Ewha’. Delicate percussion from the excellent Sori Choi and in particular the use of echo are features of the all too brief and, once again minimalist-influenced, Garram’. Folk and jazz elements blend well on the reposing, ‘Galggabuda’, with female vocals. As a whole, the album is concise at just under forty minutes with eight pieces, all composed by the leader, Sungjae Son, Of note, the vocal pieces are translated into English which is useful.

Tim Stenhouse