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Showcasing the art of the large six-string Asian zither known as the geomungo, South Korea’s Black String operates in the borderless zone between Korean traditional music and contemporary jazz where urban electricity meets pastoral space. New York Music Daily intriguingly described the ensemble’s sound as “Towering, Hypnotic, Psychedelic Korean Postrock Majesty”.
In contrast with Japanese and Chinese folk music, Korean traditional music is built around complex three-beat rhythms that support improvisation, especially the kind driving Black String’s performances. Mining the unfathomable and endless possibilities of East and West, bandleader and geomungo virtuoso Yoon-Jeong Heo has done much to spread international awareness of the art of her instrument, particularly within a modern, experimental setting (her Tori Ensemble project and collaborations with German composer Stephan Micus). In Black String, she joins forces with jazz guitarist & electronics specialist Jean Oh; daegeum (large bamboo transverse flute) player Aram Lee, who also is a master of the yanggeum (hammered dulcimer-like metal stringed instrument), and vocalist and percussionist Min Wang Hwang.
Black String is the first Asian group to sign with ACT, Europe’s largest jazz label, releasing two studio albums, Mask Dance (2016) and Karma (2019), as well as a live album, Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic (2020). Karma showcases both sides of Black String as it alternates between contemplative numbers such as the minimalist title track and pieces of shamanic abandon like “Exhale-Puri,” with its crashing drums and fevered vocals.