Here we have the ECM Records debut of Korean experimental jazz sax/clarinet master Sungjae Son and his Near East Quartet, which features the talents of guitarist Suwuk Chung, vocalists/percussionist Yulhee Kim, and drummer Soojin Suh. The band formed in 2010, and this ECM debut sees the band performing five Son compositions and three traditional Korean songs.
Quite frankly, Near East Quartet is unlike anything I've heard from the ECM stable in some time. The menacing tones of "Ewha" kicks thing off, jagged shards of guitar and sax permeate a jazzy, avant-garde haze of boiling tones for an ominous beginning to the album. Kim's gentle vocals waft over yearning guitar notes and drifting clarinet on the moody "Mot", and she's also featured on the bleak "Baram", as tumbling drums percolate under simmering guitar cries, sax, and clarinet. "Garam" is a great vehicle for the instrumentalists, Son's smoky sax fluttering over nimble guitar runs and percussive bursts, while Chung's thick, near rock based licks simmer just under the surface with Suh's energetic drums on the dramatic "Pa_Do". The leader lends some heart tugging melodies towards the outset of lengthy closer "Jinyang", but the track eventually kicks into overdrive with some potent, distorted bursts from Chung and energetic drumming courtesy of Suh that approaches near free jazz frenzy.
Not your basic contemporary jazz release by any means, Near East Quartet is a challenging record that demands the listener to give up any preconceived notions going into the album and open their mind up to something a bit foreign but ultimately quite rewarding. Job well done.