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Artist release
Review by Andrew Cronshaw

cd cover The performance that most excited me at WOMEX 2022, in Lisbon, was by a South Korean percussion trio with the slightly unpromising name, at least in its transliteration, of Groove&. It was a perfect thrill and illumination from beginning to end.

The skill and precise interaction of the three women - Sang-kyung Lee, Min-ju Sohn and Ha-gyeong Kim - was extraordinary, and every sound had musical significance. Using a wide array of Korean instruments they made music of great melody and texture with a tonal spectrum more fundamental than twelve semitones or chordal harmony, one made of higher and lower, thinner and thicker, longer or short sounds that made perfect, cross-cultural, melodic and internationally accessible sense.

When I got home I was pleased to find that among my Womex acquisitions was their CD. I thought perhaps as mere audio it might not have the same impact and allure as the concert experience. Indeed I do hugely recommend seeing them (they’ve begun touring internationally, including North America – they did a couple of shows in Canada after Womex), but even just as audio this album draws one into a rich, subtle sound and rhythm world.


It opens with a brief intro on quite a few of the instruments they use, so I’ll make some introductions. There are a lot of words in this review that’ll be unfamiliar to non-Koreans, but don’t let that put you off - to connect with this music requires no special linguistic, musical or cultural knowledge.


There’s tinkling ul-la (ten scale-tuned brass discs suspended in a vertical frame), the yang-geum (a hammered dulcimer whose name means ‘a western instrument’ but it’s been in Korea since the 18th century), the large gong jing, smaller gong kkwaeng-gwa-ri, bang-ul (shaken small spherical bells), bak (a sheaf of wooden slats that clatter together), jeong-ju (small brass cups with a lingering sustain), jang-gu (hour-glass shaped drum with oversized, string-tensioned heads ) and cymbal.

In the booklet note they say of the track, “Groove&,” ‘We put everything into this one song while showing the colours of Groove&.’ The opening patter of jang-gu drum is joined by deep jing gong, before a chiming ostinato melody on the ul-la with the metallic clash-stop of ba-ra (a pair of large hand-held cymbals), the whole piece speeding up as a tae-jing medium gong duets with jang-gu, whose impressive technique involves fast crossing of the sticks between each of its two heads.


“Zero[0]+Circle[0]=Eternity” is a slow, magical piece featuring the trio sitting in a circle playing ten various-sized jeong-ju brass cups. Struck by ball-headed beaters, their lingering ringing overlaps, and their long sustain is modulated by the player’s other hand hovering over them to change the harmonics and produce waves of vibrato, or clamping down to choke the sound.

“Wave” has an urgent pulse of skin, staccato metal and woodblock under the notes of the struck strings of yang-geum dulcimer. “Get!” is entirely on three small kwaeng-gwa-ri splashy gongs of slightly different pitches, starting very quiet, building to and subsiding from interlocking rhythm patterns.

“Pray,” based on the traditional rhythm (jang-dan) gut, slowly unfolds, ul-la trickling over tolling low gong then playing a faster, more intricate melodic line as the piece moves to more energetic drumming and metallic splashes, before returning to the slow pulse with a melodic line, with bent notes, on the dulcimer.

The latter is also the first instrument in “Chaser,” its fast-reiterated notes joined by drum, juong-ju cups and flowing ul-la tings. “Matt-Jang-gu,” which the booklet note tells us is about responding to someone’s words, is a conversation, building in pace and intensity, between three jang-gu drums.


The three final tracks are designated bonus tracks because they involve guests who bring new sounds to the ensemble. “Woolda,” features, along with many of the aforementioned instruments, Sol-ip Han on chul-hyung-geum, a steel-stringed variant, played with a slide, of the range of Korean zithers, its bending notes interacting with the dulcimer. “Sal Part 2” has an unexpected instrumental alliance with the flamenco guitar of Sung-jin Park, the trio’s instruments replacing what in flamenco would be palmas, feet and cajón.


“Run, Ran, Run” has guest bass guitar player Jang-goon Choi adding a dark foundation to a film-theme-like piece, with glockenspiel ostinato under the dulcimer melody. It’s a work that, like the rest of the album, is rich with light and shade and changing, flickering imagery. And many grooves, which is apparently how the trio’s name came about. But not your ordinary grooves; no, not at all.

Find the artists online.

Further reading:
Folk Songs of the Hui, Manchu, Xibe, Korean & Gin Peoples
Yeahwon Shin talks about her recreation of Korean lullabies
Music of the Korean gayageum

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