Album Review: Park Jiha – Philos [Glitterbeat Records; September 2019]

The last decade has seen Korean musicians spreading their names all over the world. One of the reasons behind their popularity lies in their ability to bring their tradition forward. Many of them grew up studying, making it their own and interpreting it, and now they feel it’s time to elaborate on it moving forward. Names like Jambinai, Near East Quartet, Second Moon and su:m have all helped this transition.

From one of those acts (su:m) comes Park Jiha, a multi-instrumentalist and composer who debuted solo last year, releasing Communion on Glitterbeat Records.

Her second work, titled Philos, is its worthy heir. It follows the stylistic direction of its predecessor but, at the same time, changes the angle employed. From a medium shot, Communion indeed featured various guest musicians, to a POV where the attention is entirely focused on Park Jiha and her music.

Philos is a solo work in the true sense of the word. The Korean artist turns her own and the listener’s attention to a more intimate and personal level. She named the album after the most virtuous and purest of the Greek loves, and throughout the eight chapters of the album, she unravels the emotions she feels for (her) art, nature and senses.

But Philos is not just a work about love; it’s also a labour of love. In fact, there are passages in which Park Jiha has put her life into it. “Walker: in Seoul”, for example, is what the musician’s eyes see and her ears hear when she wanders around Seoul. “Thunder Shower” is her reaction to a torrential summer rain, whereas “Easy” is enriched by a poem by Lebanese poet and singer Dima El Sayed, who wrote it, inspired herself by Park Jiha’s music. Finally, “On Water” is a delicate ode to the element.

It’s possibly through listening to songs like “On Water” or the title track that one can realise how essential and, at the same time, complex Philos is. Playing only four instruments throughout the entire record and three in each song, Park Jiha showcases her world. With her very own style, maybe more gently, but still on the verge between experimental, avant-garde, ambient and traditional Korean music, the musician revives the communion theme from her debut. However, on this occasion, there is not only a communion with her own kin; it’s a communion with nature and the inner and outer environment.

It goes without saying that it’s a communion with her roots as well. More than once, Park Jiha hints at harmonies alluding to her country’s musical repertoire, brilliantly juggling between quintessentially Korean instruments like the piri (oboe) saenghwang (mouth organ) and yanggeum (hammered dulcimer). But she does that to portray her own experiences. Embracing and transcending her tradition, she traces the path to come.