Jeong Ga Ak Hoe Bring Their Intense, Hypnotic, Fascinating Korean Sound to NYC

by delarue

In the sense that there’s not much in English about Korean ensemble Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, they’re quite the mystery band. Their sound is based in traditional Korean music, notably the mystically crescendoing, emotive pansori style, but they’ve also done frequent collaborations with flamenco groups. The five rather epic tracks streaming at Storyamp (you can also check the single video at their youtube channel, or their Sonicbids page) offer plenty of enticement. If you like the otherworldly beauty, delicate textures and mind-warping tonalities of Korean traditional and classical music but need an additional jolt of improvisational fun, this group will do the trick. They’re playing tomorrow night, March 16 at 7 PM at Elebash Hall, at CUNY, 365 5th Ave. just north of 34th St. Cover is $25.

The first of the five is a stately, spare, hypnotic waltz,  frontwoman/gayageum lute player Jiae Lee soaring with her melismatic vocals over spare lute, slinky wood flute, quavering fiddle and clip-clop percussion. The second track is a real trip. It’s a regal fanfare of sorts, but through a funhouse mirror. The way the group builds echo effects between all the instruments is very clever….and then they pull together and morph the piece into a rhythmically tricky, stately march.

Track three is a similarly hypnotic march, a slow build from just spare wood flute and drums that eventually grows more ornate as the other instruments slip into the mix. Track four is the most epic, a vocal number that rises from a seemingly imploring intro sung by Lee, into a shamanistic chorus, then an energetic drum interlude that may be a backdrop for a dance piece (as in many other cultures, music and dance together are part and parcel of Korean traditional music). Lee’s long, achingly insistent vocal interlude over the relentless thump is viscerally thrilling, eventually joined by mesmerzing multi-voice counterpoint, up to an explosive ending.

The final number, titled Bumpi, is the most dramatic, operatic and colorfully amusing, a combative dialogue between man and woman with all kinds of ups and downs; it’s here that Lee’s tone-bending gayageum finally gets some prime time in the spotlight. Moments like this jar you out of your reverie with a smile, just when you’re getting lost in the music.