Friday, 25 June 2021

Album Review: Unhurried Journey - Elena Moon Park

Elena Moon Park
is a musician, educator and producer from Brooklyn New York, and her most recent album Unhurried Journey is really quite superb. The album is so much more than a mere collection of songs; each song represents an individual segment of a musical journey that unfolds as the album progresses. The music is also a collaborative effort featuring over thirty musicians from all ages and backgrounds.  Although Elena is the major singer-songwriter on the album, many of the tracks feature guest vocalists, and the incredible array of talented musicians she has amalgamated, ensure that there is never a dull moment. 

The journey begins with "A Brilliant New Idea", which is essentially an invitation for every listener to get on board this magical journey and 'sing those songs and stories'. Here the sublime vocal blend of Elena and Sinuhe Padilla Isunza introduce the song, before the music shifts gear courtesy of the irrepressible banjo of James Moore. The music has a lovely country feel, and despite it's esoteric complexity, would probably go down well in a barn dance. 

"Flower Dance" is a traditional Cambodian folk song, featuring lead vocals courtesy of the very talented Yorn Young.  The song opens with a steady bongo pattern, which soon gives way to an array of exotic instrumentation. The song is initially sung in Cambodian before shifting to English, and then returning to the fold with further gusto. There is a dizzying array of musical mayhem going on in the background, leaving the impression that the musicians are enjoying the music every bit as much as the listener. I must admit I'm not familiar with some of the instruments used on this track, but it all blends together superbly, creating a dizzying cacophony of sound unlike anything I've ever heard.

"Unhurried Journey" serves to instruct the audience as to the art of living in the moment. Inspired by the artwork of Kristiana Parn, the song encourages us to slow down, not be in too much of a hurry, and make sure that we fully absorb the beauty of all that surrounds us. Amen to that. Here the artist is joined by Elizabeth Mitchell on vocals, who lays down a truly superb vocal take. The song is in essence quite gentle, and bounces along in fine style, with excellent work from Colin Brooks on drums and Yoshi Waki on double bass. 

"Sea Taryeong" is a famous folk song from South Korea, which transports the listener to a hillside to embrace the beautiful melody of the birds in the distance, and then reciprocate and learn their tunes on the way. The song features Kyungso Park, on vocals who serenades the listener superbly, accompanied by an interesting fusion of French horn, accordion and trumpet.  Again the song shifts between languages very effectively, as the lyrics paint the sky with birds 'that fly two by two over the hillside', as they echo 'the call of spring time'.

"Ito Maki" is sung in Japanese and features Akiko Hiroshima on vocals. The song explores the somewhat prosaic act of making outfits for animals, and at times a spoken voice is used to further emphasise the point. However, this is all part of the musical journey where the listener follows 'the Red Birds to a clearing in the hillside', who are 'delighted to see you because they need your help'. 

"Dia Mal Ka" (Foot On Tar) has more of a jazzy feel, and clearly benefits from the vibrant vocals of Sayung Chang. Here, the song manages to combine an almost big band feel, with Eastern mysticism. This time the journey takes place largely in the mind, where the sheer weight of nostalgia recreates memories of the past, triggered by sensory experience, and in particular the way in which the aroma created by a delicious meal, can capture precious memories of days gone by.  

"Flying Starfish" is a wonderful ballad, which contemplates the forthcoming adventures of the artist's niece, and all the challenges that lay ahead, in a 'world that is yours to see'. The salient point here is that although the child is encouraged to 'fly and be free', there will always be a warm home and welcoming family to return to.

"Springtime In My Hometime" returns to Korea to portray a splendid tribute to springtime. The song features an intriguing intro, which serves to introduce the arrival of of Kyungso Park on vocals. Although the inspiration for the song is steeped in South Korean tradition, some of the instrumentation sounds almost Celtic at times, perhaps as a result of the melodic input of the accordion. The band really pick up the pace in the middle of the song, due to a lively banjo, and an array of compelling instruments competing for space.  

"Let It Come, Let It Go", is my absolute favourite song on the album, which once again benefits from some truly uplifting vocals courtesy of Sonia De Los Santos and Dan and Claudia Zanes. The song combines a shuffle beat with a lively horn section, and is literally bursting with pop sensibility. The song has one of the most inspiring choruses you'll ever hear, with the joyful cohesion of the band on full display collaborating in rapturous delight. I am reliably informed that the title of the song refers to the importance of accepting the moment, however challenging this may be, before then allowing it to blow away like the wind as the journey continues.  

"Musikaru Ride to the Mountain", introduces the listener to the Musikaru family who embark on their incredible journey 'wherever the wind takes them'.  The song begins with some fine drumming from Colin Brooks, who attacks the drums in almost John Bonham style. The lyrics then describe the journey of the family, accompanied by drums, synthesiser and an inspired harmony for additional impact.  The key message here is 'we're all in this together, but each one of us is free'. A superb example of the power of minimalism when the vocals are crystal clear, the lyrics are informative, and the strength of the track lies in its overall simplicity of approach.

"Pong Dang Pong Dang" is a Korean song for children, which describes the simple act of throwing pebbles in the water and then observing the effect. The song further benefits from the additional expertise of Dan Zanes and Barbara Brousal, who transform the song into a rhyme in English, and harmonise superbly throughout. The song is truly captivating, and although arranged by Elena Moon Park, the song was actually written by Seokjung Yoon and Nanpa Hong. This is a charming and quite sprightly piece of music, further enhanced by a hypnotic guitar, and a restless mandolin, which complement the rhythm superbly.

"Hanagasa Ondo" is a traditional Japanese folk song, featuring the outstanding vocals of Akiko Hiroshima and Sumie Kaneko. It is another flower dance, and is generally performed live with a flower straw hat. During the song we are also treated to some brief intejections from Elena, where the magnificent spectacle of 'snow falling on our trees' is aptly described in English.  The song also encourages a call and response segment, providing space for the audience to join in by chanting 'choi, choi', and 'ha yassho makasho', where required.

Gong Xi Gong Xi is a popular Chinese song, and despite the complexity of the arrangement, provides significant commercial appeal. The song celebrates the Lunar New Year, and was co-written by Annie Chen who also contributes a fine vocal performance. The song again features a lively horn section with additional guitar from Rob Friedman and some inspired flute playing courtesy of Domenica Fossati. All in all, an intoxicating piece of revelry, which serves to dazzle the listener from start to finish.

"Underneath the Marshmallow Tree" has an almost pop contemporary feel, with a laid back beat, fusing expertly with electric guitar, organ and piano. This song is both delicate and highly melodic, and would appeal to all the day dreamers, who enjoy a relaxed singalong. The lyrics are also beautifully descriptive throughout, whether we are 'diving into crystal clear seas', or 'floating through a lavender breeze', it's all happening here 'underneath the marshmallow tree'.  The song also features an interesting trumpet segment, expertly performed by Nathan Koci. The ultimate strength of the song however, lies in its simplicity of delivery, as our musical journey continues through a flight 'through the night-time sky.'   

The album finishes in fine style with the delightful "Count the Waves", an Indonesian song, translated into English by Elena herself. The song features Peni Candra Rini on vocals, whose voice sounds like clear mountain water merging into a vast ocean. The song describes the story of a butterfly that slips away into the void, maybe signifying that our adventure has finally come to an end. The song is both haunting and melancholy in turn, and the vibes of David Cossin make the song sound like a prayer put to music. All in all, the perfect way to finish an album, that captures your attention from start to finish.

Unhurried Journey is a concept album, which has its eye firmly on the prize and is rarely off topic.  Featuring over thirty musicians from around the world, the album incorporates a breathtaking variety of sounds that gel together in one magnificent piece of art. Here, the artist takes the listener on a musical journey, steeped in poetry, melody, adventure and a hint of melancholy along the way. The album itself contains an eclectic mix of music styles that still manage to blend together perfectly. I can't possibly do justice to such a complex piece of work in one single review, so my advice to you dear reader, is to check it out for yourself, you will not be disappointed.  

Elena Moon Park - the journey's end is only the beginning ...