Unconditional Friend – Yoomi J. Kim (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

With instrumental music, such as this elegant offering, I find myself making the same point as I do when reviewing music with lyrics that are in a language other than my own. Take away the direct communication that the words provide and you are left with just the music itself as the bridge between the musician and listener. And it is a wonderful way to approach things. All too often people just engage with the lyrics, want something that is familiar, something to sing along to…it does after all explain the rise in popularity of tribute and cover bands. But in doing so they miss at least half of what the music is about, half of what the musician intended the song to be. Well, here the music is the “be all and end all” as they say, and despite, although probabaly because of, the combination of focus and freedom the music is so given, it is even more engaging, even more alluring.

Unconditional Friend is a gorgeous piece of music, a wonderful blend of dexterity and delicacy, space and sonic soundscaping, of gently building drama and drifting beauty. My knowledge of classical music is limited, but it does remind me of the chiming ambience of Ludovico Einaudi and the understated nature of much of his work, but that may just be because my frame of reference misses some more obvious inspirations.

Kim is a composer, musician and pianist with a wealth of experience under her belt, but her music seems to come from the most vital and intimate of places. From a place of love. Love of her family, of her faith and a belief that music is a tool that brings people together, creates peace, unites and builds bridges. Unconditional Friend embodies all of those things and is a musical message of thanks from her to them.

And for all of the obvious skills on show to create the music, there is also an understatement at work, even at its most complex she is only doing enough to paint the moods and emotions required. When a lighter touch is called for, there is space between the notes for atmospheres to linger, for anticipation to build, for intangible, non-musical elements to make the piece whole. We are used to associating the term ambient with drifting electronica or minimalist sound tracks, but this is ambient music in the truest sense, for whilst it is built on structure and rhythm in the more traditional understanding it is also shot through with atmospherics and emotion, and emphasises tone and texture too.

And in the “if you like that, you’ll love this” department here is a more improvisational piece which wanders similarly perfect paths between the spacious and the cinematic.

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