Da Yeon Seok Quartet at Korzo 2/27/18 (by Kevin Sun)


PERSONNEL: Hery Paz (tenor saxophone), Leo Geno (piano), Matt Pavolka (bass), Da Yeon Seok (drums)

SET LIST: “Relation: Part I, II, III, IV” (Seok), “Brainstorm” (Seok), group improvisation

HIGHLIGHTS: During a 50-minute set largely featuring collective improvisation, abrupt transitions heightened the drama while giving form and variety to the proceedings. At one point, a thunderous duet between saxophone and piano seemed to vanish into thin air, granting an opportunity for arco bass to glide forth into a thrilling upper register passage.


Korzo is a notoriously challenging room for drummers. With a high ceiling, brick back wall, and predominantly sound-reflective surfaces, the backroom can easily produce an undifferentiated wash of cymbals and drums. Leading her own quartet there on Tuesday, Da Yeon Seok used the resonance of the space to her advantage, playing with a characteristic restraint that lent gravity to her statements while bringing out the beauty in the decay of sound.

The first 40 minutes of the set were uninterrupted, moving between notated portions (“Relation: Part I, II, III, IV” as well as “Brainstorm,” composed by Seok) and extended improvisations departing from preconceived material. Beginning with measured statements of cymbal, snare, and bass drum set apart with unhurried rests, Seok set the pace for the music to follow. Under the ceremonial mood cast by these slow but sure gestures, an episode of start and stop fragments featuring saxophonist Hery Paz, pianist Leo Geno, and bassist Matt Pavolka quickened to a climax of pitched and unpitched sound before shifting into a delicate contrapuntal duet between saxophone and bowed bass.

Geno provided the hyperbolic foil to Seok’s spacious approach; at moments, his rhapsodic pianism called to mind the physicality of Cecil Taylor, with ripples of keys moving in contrary motion from the far ends of the piano toward the center, or vice-versa. Paz’s translucent but burry sound—not overbearingly heavy, and possessing pleasing weight—folded smoothly into the collective textures of the ensemble. Unlike many saxophonists, Paz’s vibrato is noticeably intentional, with an emphatic and quick shake that might recall Tony Malaby, but which he uses discriminately and at times completely omits, using a penetrating straight tone instead. Pavolka moved freely between serving as an unmoveable anchor for the improvising ensemble and improvising in the foreground, with virtuosic runs spanning the entire range of the bass.

At the end of this continuous sequence of music, an abrupt choke to a full-blown group improvisation left the piano alone, laying into several loud, sustained dissonances before going silent. Seok introduced the band during the ensuing applause while also modestly remarking that she wasn’t sure if she could call what they’d just played her compositions, since, “It was mostly improvisation.” However, the compositions certainly provided the sufficient pretext for these musicians to make thoroughly captivating music together.

by Kevin Sun