Ensemble Jong Nong Ak Oho
Coree: Musique Instrumentale De La Tradition Classique (Korea)

cd cover This French import of classical Korean instrumental tradition was originally recorded live in the Radio France studios. The CD consists of three tracks. The first is an improvisational duet between komun'go (six-string zither) and changgo (hour-glass drum). The contrast of the zither's vibrato and the crackling changgo percussion is first established in a tempo-less free rhythm. As the song proceeds, a rhythm is established that quickens as the song approaches its climax.

The second track is the album's centerpiece, the 52 minute long "Ryong San Ho-Sang." This is a long instrumental suite that was originally a Buddhist chant composed of the seven syllables "yong san hoe sang pul posal." At some point in history, the vocal part was dropped. The instrumental theme was enlarged to nine parts, each a variation on the original vocal. The piece is played here by the entire ensemble with the taegum (transverse bamboo flute) and another flute-like instrument which I cannot identify acting as the lead instruments. Once again, the piece begins with a very slow tempo. The heterophony of the lead melodic instruments reminds one of Japanese music. Theoretically, one is supposed to hear each of the lead instruments separately. However, to this non-Korean ear, the instrumentalists seem to be inhaling and exhaling through their instruments in perfect unison. About 38 minutes into the piece, the rhythm picks up slightly. It was one of the few times throughout the piece where I could detect one part changing into another.

The third track is a solo flute piece that is a good example of the Korean sanjo (solo instrumental variation) tradition. Because the Korean classical tradition is so exotic to most American ears, the CD would have benefited from more extensive liner notes explaining the music. Since this album is intended as the first volume in an anthology, one hopes future CDs will offer a more detailed explanation of the music.- Aaron Howard

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