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Friday, June 30, 2023

Katherine Kyu Hyeon Lim - Starling (sr, 2023)


By Gary Chapin

First impressions of Katherine Kyu Hyeon Lim’s debut, Starling: this is textural, improvised music. It sounds post-impressionistic, elegiac. “Soaring” says the liner notes. It has an unashamed sentimentality (or sentiment) and melancholy. There are sections of dissonance and clash, but mostly it takes its lead from the starlings of the title. Flying in murmurations starlings seem both natural and organized (self-organized). Murmurations have two rules, don’t get too close to each other and don’t get too far away. Lim’s trio has a few more rules than that (e.g., long tones!) but not many more, and it seems just as natural.

Starlingfeatures a trio of herself on violin, Alfredo Colón, EWI/soprano saxophone, and Kalia Vandever, trombone/fx, an ensemble that manages to mix textures and ranges that turns a relatively spare chamber group into a rich sonic source. Lim comes to improvisation via classical and chamber music and you can hear that in the language she speaks in these pieces.

The trio pieces have the three musicians setting space and tone with a few motions and then building more textures on that. It’s all ensemble playing, in the sense that there never seems to be a solo/accompaniment hierarchy happening. The third track, “Drawing Out,” starts with a sax minimalism that I want to say is in one, the violin stacks long high long tones on top of that, then the trombone adds more. Soon there is wandering, with the role of repetitive foundation being passed between them. They are listening intently to each other.

Mixed into the trio is one solo piece per player, giving us a sense of how the individuals and the group relate to each other. Kalia Vandever’s “Passing By” features her trombone interacting with her fx. Like playing into a clever echo canyon and having it answer your questions. Lim’s “Going Through (Molto Agitato)” is a very violinistic violin piece with burrs, double stops and chromatic slides. Colón’s “Quick Flight” almost sounds oboe-istic for its 53 seconds of light, Puckish extravagance.

“As It All Goes By” closes the set where it began, leaning on the strengths of the trio. These are expanses, not cascades. Sunrises, not supernovas. Tension tension—release. It’s the soundtrack for a film I want to see because I know it will improve my quality of life. There it is: Starlings improves my quality of life.


Andy C said...

I've just listened to the opening of Starling, but your review seems smack on point, Gary Chapin. This is a soundscape, not an event. I am really loving it. As a cellist in an ensemble with a violinist and a sax player (weird, I know), that's part of the attraction. We don't hear these kinds of sounds in partnership with each other that frequently. Thanks for lifting it up!