Jambinai live in London - review

South Korean trio Jambinai seriously impress the crowds in London

A press shot of Jambinai in 2015

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It’s tempting to describe Jambinai’s sonic onslaught in purely apocalyptic terms, but such is the subtlety in tonight’s stunning performance, this is more akin to the power of the Big Bang and the start of something beautiful.

The South Korean trio of Kim Bo-mi (haegeum), Lee Il-woo (guitar, vocals and piri) and Sim Eun-yong (geomungo) – here augmented by a bassist and drummer – have been making waves in the West by blending traditional music from their homeland with post-rock sensibilities.

The sight of three sedentary musicians at the front of the stage may seem odd at first, but given the use of the violin-like haegeum and the stringed geomungo, this makes sense. Sim Eun-yong elicits a variety of tones from her instrument, with sounds like plucked piano strings, a cello and a metal drum, while Kim Bo-mi’s haegeum has a spectral quality.

In common with so much psychedelic music and the vernacular forms that preceded it, this starts with the drone. A steady hum from the haegeum and the geomungo, aided and abetted by the soft percussion at the back of the stage, are comforting yet ultimately deceptive, as Il-woo, together with the bass and drums, come crashing in with an atonal yet fearsome wall of sound. The effect is spectacular and it’s little wonder that Deus Benedicat Tibi leaves the audience spellbound. It’s a moment of high drama, propelled by tension and release, and it sets the tone for the evening. Elsewhere, on Echo Of Creation, the rhythmic plucks of the geomungo usher in another tsunami of volume that gives way to sustained drones and barely controlled power.

But there’s more to Jambinai than quiet-loud-quiet dynamics. Even by reining in their more bludgeoning moments, the band are capable of providing moments of delicate beauty. Connection is a magnificent piece of music, an 11-minute epic that’s built around a rising drone, driven by a hypnotic arpeggio on Bo-mi’s haegeum and Il-woo’s gently strummed guitar. As the pace slowly increases to gently bring in the drums and bass, Eun-yong deftly switches to a xylophone while Il-woo moves to his piri. Nothing less than captivating, this is the art of sound as beauty that sees the band and audience united as a single organism.

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Julian Marszalek

Julian Marszalek is the former Reviews Editor of The Blues Magazine. He has written about music for Music365, Yahoo! Music, The Quietus, The Guardian, NME and Shindig! among many others. As the Deputy Online News Editor at Xfm he revealed exclusively that Nick Cave’s second novel was on the way. During his two-decade career, he’s interviewed the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne, and has been ranted at by John Lydon. He’s also in the select group of music journalists to have actually got on with Lou Reed. Marszalek taught music journalism at Middlesex University and co-ran the genre-fluid Stow Festival in Walthamstow for six years.