Seoul Jazz Fest branches out, drawing mixed response

By KH디지털2

Annual music fest incorporates pop, funk, folk and grows in global recognition

  • Published : May 29, 2016 - 15:45
  • Updated : May 29, 2016 - 17:46

The Seoul Jazz Festival, which ran from Friday to Sunday at the Olympic Park in southeastern Seoul, boasted a particularly eclectic lineup this year, branching out from jazz into other crowd-drawing music such as indie rock and pop. 

While the festival has always offered a mix of genres, this year saw a greater number of popular non-jazz acts in the 40 music groups showcased, including English electronic-funk DJ Mark Ronson and Korean R&B-hip-hop singer-songwriter Dean. 

The new composition of the jazz festival, which celebrated its 10th edition this year, drew mixed responses.
Korean acoustic singer-songwriter Eddy Kim performs during the Seoul Jazz Festival at the Olympic Park on Saturday afternoon. (Private Curve)

“I heard very little pure jazz music,” said one 30-something festivalgoer who said he himself was a jazz musician. “There’s a lot of jazz-influenced pop, but for people who are looking for authentic jazz, I think the Jarasum festival is still the place to go,” he said, referring to the annual Jarasum International Jazz Festival, set for October this year in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province. 

Another spectator commented that the Seoul Jazz Fest now seemed more like a “fusion” festival than a jazz event.

Others, however, welcomed the diversity.

“It was interesting to see a lot of different acts,” said a female university student surnamed Jung, who was spotted eating fries and drinking beer bought from the concession stands that lined the venue. “It feels more accessible. We checked out bands like Hyuk Oh and Peppertones so far, and they were great,” she said, referring to the Korean indie pop-rock band and electronic-house duo who performed Saturday afternoon.

Korean R&B-hip-hop singer-songwriter Dean performs during the Seoul Jazz Festival at the Olympic Park on Saturday afternoon. (Private Curve)

Still others felt the festival had stayed true to its core identity, striking a balance between both hard-core jazz and music with more popular appeal.

“Pat Metheny sparked the jazz flame,” said a 28-year-old spectator surnamed Lee who had come to the festival with her boyfriend. Metheny, who performed on Saturday night, is an iconic American jazz musician who has won 20 Grammy Awards since his 1974 debut.

“I also enjoyed acts like GoGo Penguin and Koh Sang-ji,” he said, referring to the Manchester-based jazz band and the Korean bandoneon player who both took to the stage Saturday afternoon.

“But I also really enjoyed Mark Ronson’s DJ set,” she said. “His DJing is something else. He blew up the stage. I came expecting jazz, but I was glad I could see that.”

American jazz icon Pat Metheny performs during the Seoul Jazz Festival at the Olympic Park on Saturday evening. (Private Curve)

“Royal Night Out"

The Seoul Jazz Festival, which first began in 2007 with only a handful of foreign jazz artists, is increasingly becoming a “coveted gig for both global and local musicians,” said an official at Private Curve, the event’s organizer.

It newly installed the “Royal Night Out” stage on Friday night, featuring a lineup of global musicians.

Dutch pop singer Wouter Hamel, who also performed at the Seoul Jazz Fest last year, kicked off the show at 6 p.m., starting with the funk tune “Don’t Ask.” Hamel went on to play “The Only One,” “Sir Henry” and the upbeat hit track “The Lights,” which prompted audiences to bob and sway to the music. 

Dutch pop singer Wouter Hamel performs during the Seoul Jazz Festival at the Olympic Park on Friday afternoon. (Private Curve)

Norwegian folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience followed with a more mellow performance, showcasing acoustic songs such as “Winning a Battle, Losing the War” and “I’d Rather Dance with You.” 

English jazz-pop singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum came on next at 8 p.m. with “When I Get Famous” and “Don’t Stop the Music,” among others, showing off his signature, snazzy moves on the piano.    

Irish folk singer Damien Rice performs during the Seoul Jazz Festival at the Olympic Park on Friday night. (Private Curve)

Closing the night was Damien Rice, the Irish folk musician much loved in Korea. He has performed here on numerous occasions, most recently last November. Rice gave raw, energetic renditions of songs including “9 Crimes,” “Elephant” and “The Blower’s Daughter,” upon thundering requests from the crowd for an encore.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)