Ritual Diamonds, the latest release from award-winning bassist-composer Christopher Hale, reimagines Korean ritual drumming and contemporary jazz, creating music that is mysterious, complex and beautiful. Built within an intricate rhythmic world, the music is adorned with stirring melodies, virtuosic improvisation and epic, emotional scope. Joining Hale is Korean drumming innovator Minyoung Woo and some of Australia’s finest jazz artists: Jamie Oehlers (saxophones), Andrea Keller (Rhodes and piano), Theo Carbo (guitars) and Simon Barker (drums); with special guests Chloe Kim (cymbals, percussion) and Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet).
After a chance backstage encounter at a Korean festival in 2012, Hale and Woo quickly bonded over a fascination with rhythm. “We connected immediately,” recalls Hale, “Minyoung shared with me her deep knowledge of shaman ritual drumming styles and traditional rhythms. I shared with her the rhythms of my communities in Australia: the flamenco cycles of my background and the mathematical rhythm codes of [influential Australian percussionist] Greg Sheehan – our friendship grew, and in restaurants, bars, on buses, we had fun with rhythm.” More than just learning each other’s patterns or repertoire, the pair were sharing how their rhythms worked, revealing common musical ground deep beneath the surface differences of their respective styles. The connections between Korean ritual drumming, flamenco drama and playful rhythmic puzzles suggested a new common language for rhythm, unique to their friendship.
Growing up playing flamenco and Afro-Cuban music, Hale has long looked beneath the surface of his influences to create original music which avoids imitation or appropriation. In Woo’s Korean rhythm, Hale sensed qualities that resonated with his experience. Over the next ten years, he returned regularly to Korea, undertaking long-term study into the inner workings of Korean rhythm. “My goal was never to perform Korean music,” says Hale, “but to commit to learning how these amazing rhythm traditions worked, to better understand Minyoung and her community, and expand my musical world. Then, when Minyoung and I started playing together, it was more than just a ‘fusion’ of styles. We found musical common ground in the deep structures of each other’s rhythm, and from that place built something new together.”
Hale translated some of the pair’s shared rhythmic ideas into new compositions, creating unique settings for Woo to harness her powerful, virtuosic drumming style on the changgo (the Korean hourglass-shaped double-headed drum). “The process was inspiring,” Woo explains, “we tried different ideas through continuous exchange over a long time and tried to melt each of our strong personalities into a single music.” While traditional and contemporary Korean forms inspire the music, the rhythms and concepts of this album are brand new. “I was confident that what’s already within me could be slightly ‘twisted’ in order to make these varied and fun rhythms,” says Woo.
Christopher Hale has been called “one of the most unique and respected musicians in Australia” (Glam Adelaide), an “unconventional virtuoso of the bass guitar” (The Age), “Australian jazz heavyweight and a brilliant, groundbreaking composer” (Rhythms Magazine).
CHRISTOPHER HALE ABOUT THE MUSIC
1. Flamenco, 6:37
I feel as though I dreamed this long rhythm cycle: a hazy, flamenco-inspired compás, refracted as though through a prism. The tension and release of the rhythm rises and falls in waves, led by a melody that turns and folds on itself. Theo Carbo smears a gorgeous, searching guitar solo within the harmony. Jamie Oehlers’ constructs an ingenious multi-tracked coda over Simon Barker’s crackling drum groove.
2. Ch’il ch’ae (for Kim Juhong), 6:21
Ch’il ch’ae is a famous rhythm among musicians in Korea, a long cycle featured in the samulnori drumming style. It’s deep and multidimensional, with many possibilities to explore. Here we build a world of new, interleaving rhythms inspired by this amazing form – hypnotic grooves with an almost psychedelic atmosphere. This is dedicated to the master drummer and singer Kim Juhong of the group Noreum Machi, who first shared ch’il ch’ae with me.
3. Radio Mori, 5:50
This rhythm reassembles archetypal elements of drumming language from the Donghaean Pyŏlshing Kut ritual ceremony. Minyoung learned this complex style from the master drummer Kim Junghee, and here creates her own unique variations in a long and twisting rhythmic flow, alongside Bowie-esque jangling guitars and a deceptively simple melody that expands and contracts across the shifting rhythm.
4. Minor Diamonds, 6:31
Here Andrea Keller’s Rhodes features atop Minyoung’s gently bouncing changgo feel. The song culminates in a grand, euphoric coda where Nadje Noordhuis’ sublime brass choir swells with Simon Barker’s thunderous drums. This is a structure I return to frequently – building a composition toward a final repeating melody which fulfills an emotional potential: part Stravinsky, part Kate Bush.
5. Topollim Sketches, 6:59
Here Minyoung reference a rhythmic motif from Kyŏnggi Dodang Kut, a ritual ceremony that features female mudang (shamans). The song travels through three episodes inspired by this rhythm, searching out a sustained ambiguity that can open doors to new emotional spaces.
6. Ritual Diamonds (for Kim Junghee), 2:52
This is the most intense and complex of our rhythm ciphers. Minyoung and I developed this short piece by pulling together all the various elements of our shared processes: the foundation of ch’ilch’ae is overlayed by rapid, morphing mathematical sequences, flamenco-inspired cycles and reimagined twists of Donghaean Pyŏlshin Kut ritual calls. With intense virtuosity and amazing speed, Minyoung reassembles archetypal ritual codes into completely unique variations following an Australian technique for organising rhythm: Greg Sheehan’s Number Diamonds. In the context of Korean drumming, this is a startlingly original and ingenious performance, unprecedented in the style.
This piece, and the album, is dedicated to the great shaman drummer Kim Junghee, a monumental artist and a very kind and open-hearted man, who sadly passed away in 2019.
All music composed by Hale, except 6, trad. arranged by Woo/Hale.
Christopher Hale – bass guitar, baritone guitar, acoustic & electric guitars, kkwaenggwari, ching, percussion
Minyoung Woo – changgo, kkwaenggwari, p’aram, percussion
Jamie Oehlers – tenor and soprano saxophones
Andrea Keller – Rhodes, piano
Simon Barker – drums, mujing
Chloe Kim – cymbals, percussion (Track 2)
Nadje Noordhuis – trumpet (Track 3, 4)