Catherine Sikora, Ian Smith, & Han-earl Park – “Massimo’s Imagined Juxtapositions”


Han-earl Park has a special place in my music experience.  I think, without exception, there has not yet been an opening to any one of his compositions where I have not had an adverse reaction, either repelling me back in my seat or leaving me shaking my head in exasperation of the noise coming out of my speakers.  But the thing of it is, without exception, I find myself listening straight through to the final note.  Somehow Han-earl Park finds a way to convert my ears to his music one song at a time.

I vaguely recall a story where a main character lacked all identity, to the point where he had no self-conscious awareness of his own image, his persona, his sense of self.  And each morning, when he awoke, he had to reconstruct himself, determine who he was, who he wanted to be, and go from there.  And he had to do this every single day, with no help or suggestion from days past.  Just start over every day with, effectively, a fresh slate… no preconceptions of who he was, no guilt, no remorse, no aspirations, no expectations, no history to weigh him down or dreams of the future to loft him up.

That, in a very real sense, is what Han-earl Park’s music is to me.  Something about the sound he (and his various collaborators) attains that forces me to interact with each song on its own terms, with no prior context, no expectations based on past experiences, nothing, nada.  Granted, I haven’t heard the entire body of his work, but I’ve visited his site on several occasions to give the music a listen, so I’m no Park rookie either.

There is no other artist in which I describe this way.  It’s a personal thing, to be sure.  Other listeners will assuredly have different reactions to Park’s music.  Other listeners may have a similar experience but to a different musician.  That’s how these things typically play out.  Music, though it may spring from a collective subconscious, will always have a unique and individualistic interaction with each and every listener the music encounters.  That personal factor is why music, and creativity in general, is so damn resonant.

Anyways, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the music…

On this recording, Han-earl Park (guitar) is joined by Catherine Sikora (saxophone) and Ian Smith (trumpet), recorded live on April 4, 2011 at The Roundy, Cork.

Park likes to improvise.  He likes to collaborate with musicians who like to improvise.  It would be simple to categorize this music as free jazz or avant-garde, but really both of those areas of music have, over time, developed agreed upon rules of engagement.  And while free jazz does have improvisation at its heart, sometimes it’s just good to call music Improvised Music, if for no other reason than to respect the act of artists following their creative muses in a fluid situation.  Considering this is a live recording, I think this situation applies.

Your album personnel:  Catherine Sikora (saxophone), Ian Smith (trumpet), and Han-earl Park (guitar).

On the opening track “Topologically Correct Harry,” it’s Sikora’s sax that ushers the listener right on in through the front door.  Utilizing a pattern of phrasing that gives the impression of outlining a mountain range from a distance, Sikora’s sax is at the center of attention, with Smith’s trumpet searing blemishes of heat on a radar screen as Park’s guitar gurgles and pops just beneath the surface.  Originally, my intention was to write this album up as part of my First Impression series, but I kept wanting to return to hear Sikora’s sax on this track, and I had listened to the track several times and developed second and third impressions before I could write up my first impression of the album as a whole.  And, thus, this standard album review.

The second track “바르트” has Ian Smith’s trumpet setting the table and drawing up a spontaneous menu of jab-right-cross combinations.  Sikora moves in slow, but once she’s got both feet in the room, her sound expands into wildly arcing phrases that, when combined with Smith’s one-twos, makes for a delicious whirling dervish of sound.  Park mostly keeps to the background, picking his spots and letting things develop organically.

Third track “Red Line Speed” begins as a slow build that gains momentum along with height.  It hits a plateau at the heart of the song, giving the sense of all three instruments feeling around in the dark to figure out the lay of the land before continuing their ascent in the final stretch of the track.

Fourth (and final) track “Massimo’s Imagined Juxtapositions” is a lonely streetlight on a deserted midnight avenue, and the instruments are the moths darting in and out of the dim light carved into the darkness.

The album is Self-Produced.  The geography on this one boils down to two New York based musicians (Park & Sikora) and one London based musician (Smith), though there are some past ties to Ireland (and California).

You can stream the album in its entirety on the trio’s Bandcamp page.  You can also purchase it there, in any file format, and at any price you choose.  It is set at NYOP (Name Your Own Price), which means you can pay as much or as little (including free) as you choose.  Also, don’t forget that Bandcamp allows you to download in a number of different file formats (including lossless) at no additional cost.

I’ve linked to the various musician sites above, but here’s the link again to Han-earl Park’s site, where he has a ton of music to stream and/or download for free.  It’s a real great opportunity to just explore his music.

I think that about covers it.


P.S.  In reading over this article after it was initially published, I noticed that somehow I failed to explicitly mention how much this album rocks.