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Changsik Lee: HungerKuenstler, (CD)

Label: iaramusic (private issue by the artist).  Changsik Lee, 1999.

Email: M i n d s c a p e iaramail@yahoomail.com
Web-site: http://members.xoom.com/iaramusic

Once upon a time Franz Kafka, a master of telling bleak tales, penned a
short story about a performance artist ("The Hunger Artist") an obsessed
man who never ate, starving himself in a cage in the execution of a
bizarre art that he practiced because he couldn't help himself.  In some
way Kafka might have been writing about himself since writing was the
only thing he liked to do.  Changsik Lee likens himself to Kafka since
he cannot help but make music, and was willing to jump through hoops
(including selling all his possessions) to create his self-published
debut album "HungerKuenstler".

Given that he had a nearly impossible time assembling a progressive rock
band lineup to record the album, Lee undertook the arduous task of
playing all the parts himself.  Fortunately friends of his pitched in to
play some of the bass and keyboards, allowing him to focus on his superb
guitar work and the well-conceived drum-machine programming.  Very good
guest vocalists, all of whom handled the complex melody and harmony
parts with aplomb, supplied further assistance.  Special note should be
taken of the female guest vocalist, who delivers a superb performance.

The touchstones here compositionally are late 70s Genesis, early 80s
Camel and both eras Marillion, with nods to jazz via Eric Johnson and
Allan Holdsworth type fusion guitar playing, and the occasional
sprinkling of carefully used muscular prog-metal riffing.  Lee is
extremely modest about his abilities as a musician (in fact he is
uniformly shy about himself and his work).  However he has nothing to be
shy about when he straps on his axe.  This guy can play, exhibiting a
sense of melody, timing and phrasing that many better-known guitarists
have not mastered.  I especially liked his delicate Howe-ish electric
tones on "Like My Jester", and the way he used the quiet interlude to
build towards a stunning closing section.

The downside to the record is fairly minimal.  It consists of the
overabundance of digital synth tones, and the corresponding absence of
analog keys, and the use throughout of the drum machine.  Great lengths
have been gone to by Lee and his associates to reduce the brittleness of
the synths, Lee lamenting in his promo notes that he couldn't afford the
kind of analog equipment that he really wanted.  He also regrets not
being able to afford a real drummer, a fact that will quickly be
overlooked by all but the most critically myopic of prog fans, since his
programming work is excellent, rarely slipping into the mechanical
doldrums that usually plague drum-machine driven compositions.

Other things worth commenting on:  the keyboard playing, especially the
piano work is uniformly excellent whether played by Lee or his
associate.  Perhaps next time out he'll be able to get his hands on some
of the vintage equipment he wants.  While the guitars are clearly the
main lead instrument, it is the tunes that are the real gems here.  None
of them are merely platforms for guitar-pyrotechnics, and many of them
feature complex instrument and voice harmonies.

Lee translates "The Hunger Artist" as "The Hunger Jester".  Since he's
translated from German into Korean into English I'm uncertain if this is
an intentionally different slant on the story.  Those interested in
reading "The Hunger Artist" should visit 
http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~n9648471/kafka/khungerartist.html Who might like it? Fans of British melodic prog who like both a little jazz-fusion and some heavy riffing in their porridge should gobble this up. Who might dislike it? Those who don't like to hear non-native-English speakers singing in English. Those who disapprove of the use of drum machines in prog. Those who really don't like lots of digital synths in their prog. The best tracks: "To Be Free", "But In Real Dreams", "Hungerjester", "A Place I Have Left", "Like My Jester", though IMO there are no weak sisters here. The track that best represents Changsik Lee's style: "Like My Jester". Star rating: 3 out of 5. Lots of ideas displayed in a strong debut. Real drums and less overtly digital keys would make it a four star album. One of the best finds so far this year. Personnel: Changsik Lee - guitars, basses, keyboards, drum programming. Guests whose names I can't translate out of Korean (sorry) - keyboards, bass, lead and backing vocals, German narration. Produced, engineered and mixed by Changsik Lee. All compositions by Changsik Lee. The Tunes: 1. Prologue 2. To be Free 3. News From Space 4. Enigma 5. But In Real Dreams 6. Hungerjester 7. To My Friend 8. A Place I Have Left 9. Like My Jester 10. Epilogue Steven Davies-Morris (SDM) -- A 21st Century Schizoid Man sdavmor@systemstheory.net

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