The danger with fusion, whether in music or food, is that the end product often gets overshadowed by novelty. New combinations are exciting but we crawl back to the original, craving authenticity. When it comes to traditional music, the impulse is often to faithfully replicate old standards using exotic instruments. (Think “Yesterday” or Pachelbel’s “Cannon” on Korean instruments). This emphasizes the original; and the results are usually best suited for elevators and waiting rooms.
Lee Luna, who plays the Korean instrument “gayageum,” or 12-string zither, avoids such pitfalls in her enjoyable first album, “Luna.” The young musician is known for her jaw-dropping covers of Jimi Hendrix songs such as “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” which has garnered nearly 2.5 million hits on YouTube. While some in this 12-song collection stand out more than others, Lee plays with precision throughout and perhaps more importantly, with passion.
As Lee has shown in her viral videos, the strings of the gayageum, which was developed in the 6th Century, emit an earthy, emotive sound. Because they are pliant, they can be deeply “bent,’’ which Lee says makes it perfect for playing the blues. Its structure allows for notes that aren’t included in traditional Western scale, creating a unique sound. The results can be mesmerizing, as on the album’s second track, Steve Vai’s “Tender Surrender.” Carried by the gayageum, the opening riff sounds familiar, but it’s given a new context that sounds both ancient and contemporary. As the pensive melody undulates seamlessly above the chord changes, it’s clear that Lee is gifted technically as well as with an innate instinct for the blues.
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