Korean cellist Okkyung Lee is one of those musicians who is not only comfortable in any genre - modern jazz, rock or classical - but in her own compositions she even goes beyond genres, not blending them, but defying them.
The musicians who accompany her on this album attest to that : Cornelius Dufallo on violin, Peter Evans on trumpet, Craig Taborn on piano, Satoshi Takeishi on percussion and electronics, and Christopher Tordini on bass. Ikue Mori and John Hollenbeck join on one track - "Steely Morning" - on electronics and percussion.
The second piece has a strong Asian feel, starting like soundtrack music for a Zhang Yimou movie, romantic and moving then shifting deep into avant sounds, with the strings fiddling coarsely in the higher regions, escaping sentimentalism.
Some pieces, such as "Kung" have a strong rhythmic base with cello, violin and bass circling around each other in a hypnotic counterpoint dance.
At the other end, you get "Steely Morning", a real avant-garde piece, with chime-like sounds forming the backbone for a weird electronic exploration, as sweet as it is bizarre.
Lee's compositional approach is one of control and abandon, of structure and exploration, more accessible than much of the music reviewed on this blog, and this despite its complexity of composition and arrangements, resulting in a world of sonic and lyrical magic. Yes, control and abandon describes it well : carefully crafted pieces, with memorable themes, yet with a kind of full emotional giving in the improvisations that says it all, full of depth and subtle inventivenss, without needing to resort to extremes.
A strong and beautiful album.