Artist: Park Jiha
Genre: World Fusion, Ethnic Jazz
Origin: South Korea
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
Thunder Shower (4:16)
Walker: In Seoul (6:00)
When I Think of Her (5:13)
On Water (4:17)
Park Jiha trained in classical Korean instrumentation and has been a key figure, along with bands such as Jambinai, in firmly pushing forward the lineage of “traditional” Korean music. Where her debut, 2018’s Communion, was a group effort, interweaving traditional Korean instruments – the reed wind piri and gargantuan saenghwang – with saxophone and bass clarinet, Philos is a far more isolated affair.
Here, her vision finds its clearest expression – featuring just four instruments, or five if you also count the voice of poet Dima El Sayed reading her piece Easy on a song of the same name. As the album’s sole player, Jiha transcends the sum of her tools’ parts to create a deceptively enveloping soundscape that evolves from soft, ambient warmth and playful melody to brittle, bone-rattling tension – textures so uncannily rendered that they almost sound programmed by computer.
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The star of the show is the yanggeum, a hammered dulcimer that produces flutters of high-pitched melody while also resonating like a rumbling drone on its bass strings, and the highlights of Philos come where it appears unadorned on tracks such as Thunder Shower. Inspired by a sudden summer downpour, it builds layers of the dulcimer to evoke the intensity of falling rain. Another yanggeum-rooted track, Walker: In Seoul, takes a slower pace, gambolling along to a fairground melody and suggesting the ambience of a city stroll.
The beauty of Jiha’s work lies in the spaces she leaves to evoke these imaginative moments in the listener. With the use of no more than three instruments in any one composition, Jiha displays not only her subtle arranging skill but also the capacity for instrumental music to express as much meaning and emotion as language – so much so that the introduction of El Sayed’s poem in her tenor voice is jarring, whereas Jiha’s own non-verbal vocals on the dreamy When I Think of Her keeps the listener within her imagined space. Philos is all the better for its isolation, benefitting from its repetitive minimalism and Jiha’s relentlessly creative approach to playing.
by Ammar Kalia