by Taylor Ho Bynum
November 30, 1999
Speaking of taking chances, the last set I caught this night was by Local Lingo, a duo with my dear friend and collaborator Jason Kao Hwang on violin and viola, and Sang Won Park on ajang and kayagum (sort of smaller, Korean versions of the koto) and voice. These two played together for many years in Jason's Far East Side Band, and recently started working together as a duo. This is a totally stripped down musical context, just two string instruments, no chordal or percussive cushions to fall back on. Which is scary in any context, but particularly in a huge boomy hall in front of an audience hungry for explosive ecstasy. But Jason and Sang Won played a totally magical, powerful, and fulfilling set. At the beginning, the usual festival conversations and murmurs were too evident echoing in the room, but by the end, the duo had completely won over the crowd, as the entire hall was rapt with hushed attention. The word soulful is too often bandied around and has settled into cliche, but nothing else so fits the deeply human expressiveness of this music. Jason's playing, always wonderful, seems to be entering the stage of true mastery, as his sound is unique and personal, immediately identifiable, yet still risk-taking and surprising. Sang Won plays his instruments with joy and relish, plucking, bowing them with sticks, coaxing out impossible and gorgeous tones. When Sang Won rears back and opens his mouth to sing, it makes you shiver, again, just so full of soul. When the two musicians dive into a melody together, it sounds like nothing else, totally outside the realm of Western intonation but more in tune than any orchestra. They just recently recorded a CD, I'm not sure if it is officially released yet but I would highly recommend tracking it down. And try and catch them perform, their delicate energy is best felt live, and it is a thrilling feeling.