2020 was a traumatic year for cellist Okkyung Lee and not only because of the Coviod-19 pandemic lockdowns. She says that she was in a low place even before the pandemic took over the world, extremely burned out and feeling cynical most of the time. Most of the year she was in Korea, without the cello, and even when she returned to her apartment in Brooklyn she didn’t desire to make music and sank into depression.
But at the end of October, the Chicagoan Corbett vs. Dempsey art gallery-label-book store and artist Christopher Wool (who did the cover art) invited Lee to record a solo album, as part of a series of albums inspired by the challenging conditions brought on by the COVID pandemic to distinct musicians. The first albums in the series «Black Cross Solo Sessions» were recorded by Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, and the following ones in this series will be by Mats Gustafsson (performing a group of Peter Brötzmann pieces), Arto Lindsay, Zeena Parkins, and Hamid Drake.
This invitation sparked a perfect opportunity to bid farewell to the horrendous year, and reconnect with the cello, even though that she still struggled with the instrument in the studio. The crystal clear musical ideas merged quickly and Lee felt that she had something to say through music again and that the music sounded like it was hers. Lee’s brutal honesty is reflected in the raw but intimate, vulnerable and melancholic spirit of «나를 (NA-REUL) [Black Cross Solo Sessions 3]».
The elegiac music is haunting and beautiful, distilling the emotions that Lee Experienced through the tasking year. Her connection to the cello is immediate, and it is clear that she was eager to explore its full timbral spectrum on pieces that reflect her struggles with her emotions like «Drifting», «Burning» and «날개 (Wings)», or when she plays with exquisite grace and elegance on pieces like the beautiful «Mountains», «Pisces» and «Gray». The nine pieces accumulate eventually into a moving statement about music as the healing force of our universe. Last year taught Lee – and us, the listeners – to reevaluate this kind of rare, healing power. And as Lee concludes, the future may not be rosy, but at least with music, we can feel out of the woods.
Okkyung Lee (c, bells)