"There is no jazz in Korea"
Music critic Choi Kyung-sik's liner note for the 1974 record by Shin Joong-hyun and the Yup Juns starts off with this stark statement. Though it may have been a rhetorical device to emphasize the birth of an album embodying Korean rock, the statement itself holds nevertheless when one considers that Korean jazz has never enjoyed a place of its own - not in the 8th Army scene nor the civilian general scene. As is usually the case in other countries, jazz was the strongest pillar upon which Korean popular music was founded, during the 1930~1940s. For musicians, jazz was the biggest stage that everyone aspired to. Violinist and Latin music virtuoso Kim Kwang soo, as well as standard jazz / big band pioneer Eom Tomi are widely considered the founders of Korean jazz and even band music in general - such is the extent of their musicianship and influence. Other great names in Korean popular music like Lee Bong-jo or Gil Ok-yoon rose up under the 'roof' of these originators.
However, during the 1960s the mainstream of Korean popular music shifted to pop and gayo. Many musicians moved to different scenes and Korean jazz entered a dark era. It is maestro Lee Pan-geun - the central figure of this recording - who through a strong background in theory and basics preserved the embers of Korean jazz and passed in on to posterity. Lee taught himself jazz during the years following the Korean War. He mastered both the theory and practice of jazz, mentoring great musicians in Korean jazz such as Choi Sun-bae, Kang Tae-hwan, and Jung Sung-jo among countless others. He has also fostered many top singers/composers who are still active in the gayo scene. This recording, <Jazz: Plays...>, can be regarded as the first work that saw direct involvement by maestro Lee.
The production of this album can be attributed to the passion Eom Jin - a hit producer known to this day for his eccentric work - had for jazz. In addition to the titular value of an Eom Jin production, Eom Jin emphasized album concepts and overall soundmaking. He had maestro Lee put together an ensemble of the best musicians from the Lee Pan-geun crew, his sights set on creating a definitive record of Korean jazz. This album, recorded in 1978, is important because it is probably the only surviving authentic record of Korea's jazz scene at the time. Featuring mainstays of the 1970 jazz scene like Kim Soo yol(sax) and Kang Dae-gwan(trumpet), as well as creative musicianship from Lee Soo-young who on an electric (as well as upright) bass, the album also features drumming from Choi Se-jin, who had just returned to Korea and drew from his experience overseas to weave a varied rhythmic texture. On piano is the jazz 'prodigy' Son Soo-gil, better known as a regular member of the KBS orchestra, whose interpretation of jazz would have remained a part of oral tradition had it not been for this record.
The fact that 'folk' comes first in the album's title reflects the emphasis maestro Lee had on the localization of the jazz phraseology and his yearning for the discovery/development of a Korean phraseology of jazz founded upon a mutual understanding of traditional Korean music. The process as well as the result can be found in the album. The grand opening track 'Arirang', clocking in at over 10 minutes, exemplifies the symbolic value of the album. The spiritual intro leads into jazz-funk drum breaks, infectious electric bass lines, and unpredictable piano playing by Son Soo-gil (who maestro Lee calls a "bona fide genius" in an interview). It almost sounds like something one would expect from a prestigious spiritual / soul jazz label such as Black Jazz or Strata East - a rare moment in Korean jazz indeed. The drumming by Choi Se-jin, who had just returned to Korea after playing in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, is influenced by soul jazz and boogaloo patterns completed throughout the 1970s. Tracks like 'Han-o-baek-nyun' and 'Gasiri' lay down the idea and method of a Korean interpretation of spiritual jazz.
Space Sarang and Janus are some of the keywords that emerged in Korea's jazz scene with the release of this album. These venues would set the stage for movements regarded as important to this very day. However, the cultural soil at the time was still unforgiving, and many musicians had to leave the jazz scene in order to earn a living. Recordings by the few Korean jazz musicians who remained are still few and far between. This certainly adds to the importance of this album - a flower that sprouted from barren soil - not only as a record but also as a stimulus to today's musicians.
DJ Soulscape/360 Sounds
released October 24, 2013
Lee Pan-geun: arrangement, producer
Kang Dae-gwan: trumpet
Kim Su-yeol: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Son Soo-kil: piano
Lee Soo-young: bass
Choi Se-jin: drums
Ryu Bok-sung: bongo
Executive Produced by Eom Jin
Produced by Lee Pan-geun
Recorded by Unknown
Mixed by Unknown
Recorded & Mixed at Majangdong Studio, 1978
Designed by Eom Jin
Remastered by Masao Maruyama (production dessinee) at Studio Djoke, Japan
Liner notes: Hwang Duck-ho, Park Min-jun(DJ Soulscape/360 Sounds)
English translation: Bae Ki-joon
Reissue designer: Baek Ji-hoon(Beatball Design Lab.)
Reissue producer: Lee Bong-soo
Photos courtesy by Park Sung-yeon(Janus), Eom Jin Estate
BEATBALL thanks to
Ahn Jong-sook, Lee Kyoung-seok, Park Sung-yeon, Masao Maruyama, Park Min-jun, Shin Hyun-jun, Song Myoung-ha
Originally released by ANGEL PRODUCTION/DAEHAN RECORD in 1979 ANGEL CAT. NO.: AG-0003(LP) / AG-111(TAPE)
P 1979, 2013 EOM JIN ESTATE
C 2013 BEATBALL MUSIC GROUP
Released by COBRA ROSE Records, a division of BEATBALL MUSIC GROUP.
all rights reserved