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Okkyung Lee: Nihm

Okkyung Lee: Nihm

Release Date:2005

By Marc Masters | Posted 8/24/2005

Born in Korea in 1975, cellist and composer Okkyung Lee moved to Boston at age 18 to study at the Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory. Migrating to New York in 2000, she’s become a fixture in the downtown avant-garde, playing with John Zorn, Jim O’Rourke, Christian Marclay, and many others. Nihm, her debut album, is consistently absorbing. Played by a revolving group of deft musicians, Lee’s compositions wind through chamber pieces, taut jazz, film-score drama, and improvised abstractions. Yet her music’s precision firmly glues the album’s diverse sonics.

Nihm’s sharpest tool is Lee’s razorlike timing. Every piano chord, percussion rattle, and cello tone falls right where it’s needed. Hence, the catchy bop of “That Undeniable Empty Feeling” and the cascading abstraction of “Anything You Say, Anything You (Don’t) Say” sound oddly similar, each deploying its weapons with sublime logic. Building like a narrative, Nihm’s subplots mesmerize: “Closed Window” clings to a sad melody from Lee’s mournful cello and Doug Wieselman’s clarinet. A duet with drummer Tim Barnes, “Deep Blue Knot,” sways from minimalist restraint to air-filling abandon. “Home,” a Korean children’s song rearranged into an abstract tapestry, adds Ikue Mori’s electronics to the drizzling piano of Sylvie Courvoisier.

Despite its collaborative energy, Nihm, peaks when Lee plays unaccompanied. Her string massaging on “Sky” is like the score to slow time-lapse photography of a multihued horizon. The track’s patient, wordless tale unfolds like a great novel, a microcosm of Nihm’s powers: thoughtful yarns weaved from exacting sounds.

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