21 October 2012

One of many

It’s only 10 hours from Amsterdam but Seoul is a big, bustling Asian city and a world away from Europe. We’re just stopping over and in a haze of jet lag and culture shock with the people and the markets and the food and the commotion and the mix of modernity and another tradition. They must love their gadgets because I’ve never seen so many people lost in big-screen smartphones. The subways have gas masks so you never fully forget the close presence of a hot border. We visit a palace and happen on a changing of the guards and this looks so different, but then I realise the English monarchy, or should I say the Queen of Australia, has its ceremony and it’s just the same in military audaciousness and colour. As I noticed in Germany, though, this is a republic so the people own and visit their palace and this tourist event is just that. Who owns Buckingham Palace? Not us: I can’t visit. I am a subject, not a citizen.

I chose the venue, All That Jazz, because it’s easy to get to on the Subway and it’s a long established jazz club. There are plenty of jazz clubs in Seoul, but most of their websites are in Korean so I didn’t know what I was getting. I was disappointed but not surprised. This was jazz club as nightclub scene. CTI-era but too loud and lacking in delicacy. This was smooth: post-bop in style; 32-bars; cycles of fourths; e-bass, guitar octaves, a bit sloppy. Amongst others, they play a blues; Take 5 in 4/4; Tequila, which must be the corniest latin in the books. I find the piano the most convincing with a decent concept of tension and dissonance but loose. Things swing but it could be lighter. I’m not sure how the locals took it. There are numerous jazz clubs and I think there’s a Berkeley campus here, so I guess there’s invention, but this is not that scene. Perhaps, like wine and coffee and American doughnut chains, jazz is a recent import that’s popular but not imbued. There’s Asian pop on the radio in a Western style but it’s too innocent. I prefer the traditional Asian instruments and voices where there’s a dignity and beauty despite its strangeness to my ears. Not really my jazz.

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