Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Chiri Jazz Trio performs a mix of jazz and traditional Korean music at the Enav Center (Tel Aviv)

Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner and Korean Ambassador Kim Il Soo hosted a unique musical event October 29th 2011 at the Enav Cultural Centre, Tel Aviv. On arriving, guests were offered an opportunity to taste Korean food and Australian wines as they circulated, chatting with invitees and members of the Chiri Jazz Trio – percussionist Simon Barker (Australia), trumpeter Scott Tinkler (Australia) and Korean pansori singer Bae Il-Dong (Korea). The Chiri Trio is on a concert tour hosted by Australian embassies in Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Jordan, Turkey and Israel, the tour ending with a performance in Washington D.C.

Ambassador Andrea Faulkner welcomed newly appointed Ambassador Kim and guests, mentioning that this special evening was also a celebration of 50 years of bilateral relations between Australia and Korea. She spoke of the event bringing together the excellence of standards of music in Australia, the fact that cultural exchange creates new genres and of the sophisticated music scene in Israel. Ambassador Kim, thanking Ms. Faulkner for this opportunity, spoke of the meeting of east and west, about the fact that Korea wishes to reach out to the world through its art forms and that Korean artists are open to experimenting.

Scott Tinkler spoke of the two Australians’ deep, long-standing involvement in Korea and the essence of its music. We were shown a few minutes of Australian singer Emma Franz’s documentary “Intangible Asset No. 82”, a film telling of Simon Barker’s search for Korean shaman (intercessor between gods and humans) Kim Seok-Chul, a man he believes to be one of the world’s greatest improvisers. The film, set in the wild, unspoiled nature of mountain regions in Korea, shows how pansori singers spend many hours a day undergoing vocal training by waterfalls. (Pansori – often referred to as Korean opera – is a type of traditional music-theatre performed by a singer and drummer.) From the film, we learn that Bae Il-Dong spent seven years living alone by waterfalls, learning to sing. “Chiri” is a mountain in the southern Sobaek range of Korea where Il-Dong camped during those years. The singer recalls: “Looking back now, I don’t know how I lived like that. But I believe in reincarnation and I believe I was born with this destiny”.

The first half of the program at the Enav Center consisted of a series of improvised pieces. Tinkler began the first as a trumpet solo, soon to be joined by Barker. From the outset, the audience quickly became aware that we were, indeed, hearing two outstanding jazz musicians. Bae-Il-Dong, dressed in traditional Korean clothes and holding a fan, then joined, singing long, monosyllabic notes, his powerful singing using a variety of different vocal effects. Each mood piece, fresh with spontaneously inspired improvisations, constituted musical expression of tireless energy and deep communication. Bae was not static on the stage, often approaching the player with whom he was connecting. All musicians communicated with face and eyes.

The second half of the program presented content of a more programmatic nature - two epic poems. The first “The Scent of Spring Fragrance”- telling the story of a beautiful young married woman thrown into prison because of refusing the advances of an official – opens with an evocative gong solo. As the drama develops, Bae adds meaning with hand- and body movements, approaching one instrumentalist or the other. There were many tender moments in this piece.

In the second epic poem, we were in for more emotional action in the story of a young woman who sacrifices herself in the sea to a dragon lord in order to restore her blind father’s sight. The Banquet Scene is one of powerful drama, using speech mixed with song, an extraordinary display of circular breathing on the part of Tinkler….in short, total involvement on the part of all three artists. It is a piece of vehement, intense outpouring. Barker and Tinkler play it out in their own musical language and Dong in his. This mix of styles retains its separateness, coming together in the artists’ oneness of spirit. Dong is an artist to be reckoned with: his uncompromising, gritty, instinctual vocal style comes from the gut – his is the expression of deep pain and ecstatic joy. Tinkler talked of the ensemble’s work as based on trust, relationships and ongoing work. The audience was impressed and moved.

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