Cheol-Kkot-Sae by Okkyung Lee

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In this latest composition by Okkyung Lee the Korean artist (and prolific collaborator) has brought together six additional players including John Butcher on sax, Lasse Marhaug behind electronics and of course Lee, herself, on cello. Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird) out now on Tzadik (CD/DL) is anything but flighty. This is a live recording from 2016 from the Donaueschingen Festival, a small town in Germany.  The title cut runs the length of the recording at 44 minutes, opening with Song-Hee Kwon presenting a form of Korean storytelling called Pansori singing, that’s vaguely reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s frail yodel, but to a different drummer.


SWEET NOISE – HI+LO: The strident set is wily and flows between discordant romps and impressive vocal amplitude. Lee’s own cello is a revelation of transformative instrumentation, sometimes barely recognizable in its form, at times coming off more like a theremin – reminds me of the dexterity in the voice of Betty Carter to an extent. Ches Smith‘s drumkit accompanies Jae-Hyo Chang‘s percussion to a fault, circling, intruding, speaking over and in recess, forming an otherwise perfect union with the other players. Behind the ethos of all the flutter and awkward dance is a brilliant subdued bass that has it’s moment to shine in solo, commandeered by John Edwards. The thwack and hand play upon its body and bow run from wacky to wonder. Butcher renders his instrument with sensual harmonics passing the keys to the left field distorted coagulation, and welcome hijinks of Marhaug. It’s like erasing raido waves with a rounded explosion of noise. It’s a second coming in reverse, with Kwon’s vocal and Lee’s searing strings as a glorious foil. And when it goes a bit minor about seventeen minutes in it’s a resplendent calming after the storm, like tiny balloons letting out their last gasp.


It gets into a bit of a drunken seasick set of harmonies once the silences settle. As an cross between improvisation, heritage and the unexpected between well-oiled musicians, this is an incredible performance, quite unique and even somewhat transformative of (your) mood — breaking with timing, bridge, tempo by being its own form. In the final twelve minutes here comes the jazz flock and tumble. But for all the excessive cavorting these guys reign it in by way of Chang and Smith’s beaten camaraderie, oh those symbols are making me itch!  The Korean flair is overt, yet very much ahead of its time in terms of the language of sound. The naked piano encore into an unyielding spun cello, is a sweet goodbye. For Lee, this is a new sound, less hard-edged than some of her past work – yet still slices right through the ordinary, and takes a reserved space deep into the unknown.


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