CD review

Torben Westergaard – “The Gori Project”

Torben Westergaard – The Gori Project
(TWMusik TWMUSIK016. Album review by Rob Mallows)

I’ve always had a soft spot for Nordic music. Most of my favourite albums of the last decade have been from Danish, Swedish or Norwegian artists. They make the best jazz and heavy metal in my opinion.

Korea, however, is musica incognita.

Fortunately, this new self-published album from Danish bass player Torben Westergaard brings the unknown to the known, fusing the musical traditions of Danish jazz and electronic pop with Korean sounds (and, safe to say, South, not North!)

Is it jelly and ice cream or pancakes and hotdog mustard? In other words, does it work?

Well, kind of.

I’m all for fusion jazz, but sometimes, things just aren’t meant be be combined, so I was cautious when listening to The Gori Project, created to mark sixty years of Korean-Danish diplomatic relations.

Yep. Not many musicians are, I imagine, inspired by the niceties of international diplomacy. But Westergaard was and, pleasingly, the end result is reasonably accessible and worth a listen.

The hands-across-the-border mentality is reflected in the musicians: Westergaard is joined by two countrymen – Jacob Andersen on drums and Rene Damsbak on trumpet and electronics – and two master Korean musicians, Eunhee Choi on the gayageum (yes, I had to look it up too – it’s a zither-like instrument that’s been around since the sixth century) and Byunggil Choi on Korean percussion and vocals.

The music is jazz-influenced clearly, but is deliberately genre-neutral in its biases.

It has a cinematic feeling to much of it. One could image it accompanying a travelogue or nature programme. So, it’s easy on the ear and soothing (think Garbarek-like), even ambient (there aren’t a lot of notes thrown around). It’s intriguing, if a little too slow paced to raise the heartbeat.

On a ballad like Turns, the breath trumpet and spiky gayageum work surprisingly well against the background vocal harmonies – more than I thought it might.

Fourth track Indigo has a recognisably soft-jazz sensibility, with the gayageum playing a guitar-like comping role, while Damsbak’s subtle trumpet can be compared favourably with Till Brönner’s.

Each track is underpinned by Westergaard’s unadorned, economic electric bass playing and Andersen’s sparse playing (which favours cymbals over snare) and they create a lot of space into which the other players can drop in and out.

Sometimes Korean sounds predominate; at others, a jazz feel abounds, such as on fifth track Make No Gaps. The vocalisation of the two Chois is quite guttural and takes a bit of getting used to, but combined with the electronic soundscapes, it has an important role in creating some texture over the glacially smooth tunes. My only real criticism is that the music is one-paced.

I can’t imagine I shall ever listen to another Danish-Korean crossover album, or particularly want to. However, I’m glad I gave this a listen and musicians like Westergaard are to be lauded for doing their bit to further international relations through music.

LINK: The Gori Project on TWMusik

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