Last night Lincoln Center partnered with the Korean Cultural Center to bring janggu drummer and innovator Kim So Ra and her band to make their debut here. She’s one of the great innovators in Korean sounds, having founded the country’s first all-female traditional percussion ensemble, Norikkot, as well as cinematic art-rock instrumentalists nuMori. She was clearly psyched to be at “One of the finest musical theatres in the world,” as she put it. “Cool! I brought some rain from Korea for this perfect day,” she grinned, alluding to the stormy, watery themes on her latest album A Sign of Rain. The result was as psychedelic a storm as you can possibly imagine.
There’s a tradition in janggu drumming that’s feral and shamanic, but the duo of Kim and fellow percussionist Hyun Seung Hun,opened the night with otherworldly, mysical ambience, blending delicate gongs and a singing bowl punctuated by spare, resonant beats and rainlike washes. Then the bandleader kicked into a brisk, syncopated 10/8 beat that was no less hypnotic for being a lot louder.
The two made disorientingly clipped variations out of a distantly majestic processional before really picking up with a staggered gallop. Piri player Lee Hye Joong blew white noise and then increasingly animated, quavering calls through her little wooden oboe over a steady janggu riff; gayageum player Lim Ji Hye joining quietly underneath.
The irresistibly warptoned gayageum (a fretless zither that sounds like a low-register hybrid of the Egyptian oud and the Indian surbahar, minus the reverberating strings) took centerstage, ripping and leaping over percussive flurries, long, surprisingly low, sax-like sutained lines from the piri and an eventual return to a stately, swaying rhythm. Meanwhile, deep-space photography drifted across the screen behind the stage. Somebody give this band a residency at the Hayden Planetarium: they’d pack the place!
A janggu solo meant to depict a heartbeat came across as a pretty strenuous expedition, drama giving way to a hypnotic groove and back, with some serious sprinting involved as well. Then the two percussionists brought the thunder and eventually some dancefloor thud, entreating the crowd for some boisterous call-and-response. The full quartet closed with a mighty, swaying theme punctuated by wailing piri and spiky, rippling volleys of upper-register gayageum, and encored with an even more turbulent piece.
The next concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St is tomorrow night at 7:30 PM with latin jazz drummer and bandleader Bobby Sanabria leading a mighty 21-piece unit paying tribute to the great Palladium-era salsa bands. Get there early if you’re going: it’s going to be a dance party.