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Monday, January 31, 2022

Eunhye Jeong - Nolda (Esp-Disk, 2021) ****

By Gregg Miller

Eunhye Jeong’s Nolda is a solo piano disk, full of pathos, shifting dynamics, silence. Cecil quickness, fly-swatting across the keys. A hint of stride. Brooding at times; then, Chopin-esque. Nothing on repeat; notes and sounds, no melodies, no themes. Falling off cliffs; eyes pained by a too-bright sky. Here is a player with all the classical tools, but aiming at a different mark: free romanticism.

On track 1, we have lots of pedal sustain and dynamics. Chord clusters, dissonant and not. Ideas trail away into nothing. Track 2 is brasher. Quick, intense gestures like hard breathing after a set of stairs, notes thrown at you like darts. Playful, but like breaking all the dishes accompanied by a finger nail grip. The third track delivers slow moving chord clusters in the lower register, a landscape dry and unlovely. On tracks 7 and 8, we get some speed angst, alternating with what feels like being in a padded cell, looking for the door, and glad not to find one. No solace here, not really, as the weather turns worse.

For some perspective: Take a listen to Marilyn Crispell’s “Friends from Above” on the brilliant recording Natives and Aliens (Leo, 1997) with Evan Parker’s trio (Barry Guy and Paul Lytton).

Parker sits this one out. Crispell’s playing is in a certain sense all over the map, all over the keys, yet her touch is light and quick, playful and sonorous. Jeong’s hands are generally either heavier or gentler, pursuing less of an overall consistency; she is instead, serially, her own play-partner with some attention deficit problems. Jeong's playing is less fiercely modular than Matthew Shipp's. Nothing on Nolda is as concentrated and focused as, say, Shipp’s “Patmos” on his solo outing One (Thirsty Ear, 2005).

Too, Jeong displays none of the abstract, minimalist DIY aesthetic of Bruno Duplant’s absolutely gorgeous composition performed solo on Fender Rhodes by Frédéric Tentelier, Nocturnes (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020, reviewed by Fotis Nikolakopoulos here).

Instead, Nolda captures the piano as a dynamic resonator of the pianist’s physical urgings. In another direction, if we think of Magda Maya’s modernist, solo piano work, Heartland (another timbre, 2009), nothing like those inside-the-piano techniques are on offer. Here the acoustic string box is presented as intended, through its hammer keys. Jeong’s music on this disk is a serious retort to classical piano using its own tools. It’s a fascinating, beautiful and searching performance.