Music Reviews

Artist: Ryan Choi (@)
Title: Whenmill
Format: CD EP
Label: Off (@)
Rated: *****
You may recall that not too long ago I reviewed Hawaiian baritone ukulelist Ryan Choi's initial release, 'Three Dancers'. For those not familiar with Choi's style, clear your head of any notions of traditional ukulele music from Hawaii. This certainly is not that. Think of it as more akin to improvisational classical and jazz guitar with some avant-garde leanings. Although 'Three Dancers' and 'Whenmill' are both CD EPs, the similarity ends there. For one, 'Three Dancers' was very busy, and all over the map at times. It was as Choi was attempting to showcase his skills and various techniques throughout the EP. Here on 'Whenmill,' Choi seems much more confident in his improvisations and hence, the music is only busy when it has to be. There is also a marked classical tone throughout, signifying a serious, rather than playful attitude. 'Whenmill' consists of four pieces - "Quixano" (2012), "Inn Blue" (2012), "Whenmill" (2013), and "South Aleksandr" (2011), the last being the longest at 12:23, while the others are well under six minutes each. "Quixano" has a distinctly Spanish flavor, and although it employs numerous classical guitar techniques, it never develops a distinctive theme or motif. "Inn Blue" seems far more introspective and oblique, and somewhat enigmatic. "Whenmill" pushes even further into the obscure, and just when you think you've got a handle on this piece, Choi changes it up and blows away any preconceived notions you may have had about it. The playing here ranges from strictly genteel to hard-charging. "South Aleksandr" is the show-stopper though, with Choi starting out in a rather mellow vein, but then moving into a fantasia of differing forms. As it progresses, Choi strays from the classical leaning previously exhibited moving into jazzy and bluesy territory without ever being solidly grounded in either. Towards the end, Choi's playing becomes harder and more intense, really wailing on the uke. Played live, this piece would likely bring an audience to its feet by its conclusion. 'Whenmill' shows Choi's growth as an artist composer with his uncompromising vision. It may be a little more difficult to grok than his previous release, but for those who do, ultimately rewarding.

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