Black String Live Review, K-Music Festival 2021. By Tim Cumming

They can blend in with their sonic influences of world jazz, post-rock, Korean folk, and free improv, but the range of instruments they use to raise the walls of unholy sound in their music, instruments ancient folk songs with screaming electric guitars, made their performance one of the most singular of the musical experience.

Signed on the German contemporary jazz label ACT, they are directed by Yoon Jeong Heo, focused on his impressive geomungo, the Korean zither that players pull and bend and spin in life, and which dates back to the 5e century. She is joined by guitarist and electronic artist Jean Oh, and multi-instrumentalists Aram Lee (daegeum and sogeum flute and hammered dulcimer yanggeum) and Min Wang Hwang on vocals, percussion and drums.

It’s this blend of spaced ethereal beauty and intense, epic soundscapes with epic architecture that makes Black String an event.

At the concert on Thursday evening, as part of the K-Music Festival 2021, after the opening with “Seven Beats” and Mask Dance “of their first album ACT – a Song lines magazine award winner – they launched the colossal drone of “Surena”, a lumbar puncture in the sound driven by a galloping rhythm underlay from singer Hwang’s hand drum, the band gradually reduced it to the following “Exhale-Puri” with its exquisite opening duet between Lee’s spacy guitar and Yoon Jeong Heo’s geomungo.

For the core of the ensemble, they were joined by guest guitarist Vietnamese Nguyen Le, a guest on their second ACT outing, Karma. Le sat down by the geomungo, to the side of the stage, and slipped into the maelstrom of “Elevation of Light”, his and Lee’s guitars screaming and hovering above a wave of cymbals before s ‘install in the bottom, the geomungo revealing itself as a mysterious center of the quivering web of rhythms and drones of music. Seventies Miles Davis would love this group.

“It’s one of the most intense music in Asia,” says Le of Black Spring, before opening one of his own songs, “Thang Long” (“The Dragon Ascendant”, the former name of Hanoi ). He then delivers some of the most amazingly beautiful solo guitars I’ve ever heard, softly accompanied by geomungo and flute, before “Song of the Sea” unleashes a raging sonic storm, Le rising to let loose rapid fire during a defibrillating denouement.

“Hanging Gardens of Babylon” returns to lyrical and otherworldly Kosmische spatial music – that is, up to the double reed taepyeoungso horn, a very strong member of the shawm and rhaita family, and more penetrating than an x-ray.

It’s this blend of spaced ethereal beauty and intense, epic soundscapes with epic architecture that makes Black String an event more than a concert. This is K-Music’s eighth year, and with two more concerts to come, featuring the gayaguam duo Dal: um on November 6, and British star Camilla George with the Soojin Su trio as part of London Jazz. Festival on November 17th, this year just might be one of the best in the festival.


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Gerald R. Schneider

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