Sunny Kim – “Painter’s Eye”


I keep saying that I’ve reached my limit on Jazz vocals albums for 2012, but it seems like every month there’s a new one to make me reverse that decision.  Today, it’s Sunny Kim‘s Painter’s Eye.

Recalling the heavenly symbiosis of Latin vocalist Gabriela and guitarist Bill Frisell, the collaboration of Kim’s Korean lyrics and Ben Monder’s moody guitar make Painter’s Eye absolutely shine.  The entire album is something of a stunning experience, and it might just break a few hearts, too.

Your album personnel:  Sunny Kim (vocals), Ben Monder (guitar), Chris Speed (tenor sax), Sean Conly (bass), Angelica Sanchez (piano), and Richie Barshay (drums), Pheeroan AkLaff (drums).

A vocalist that sounds driven to elicit the imagery of her words with the methods of an Impressionist artist, Kim’s delivery evokes permutations of the melody without ever needing to definitely state it.  Bending notes that dive and rise without warning, yet never veer into the avant-garde aeronautics of, say, a Jen Shyu (who is an experience all to herself), Kim’s voice provides thrilling moments while remaining tethered to the earth.

The music is based on the work of Korean painter and poet Sun Doo Kim, and though that is the source of the initial inspiration, it clearly blossomed in the recording studio.

As mentioned in the opening, the interaction between Kim and Monder makes this album smolder with emotion.  Songs like “Passing,” “In Silence,” and “A Slow Landscape” find Kim matching tension-filled vocals with Monder’s slow dramatic notes on guitar.  Even when other instruments provide accompaniment, the music is a movie scene of two actors sitting across from one another and locking eyes; everything else is just fuzzy imagery in the background.

However, when the compositions bring the other musicians into the spotlight, the album resonates just as strongly.  The sound of Conly’s bass like footfalls ominously approaching from the darkness and the twinkling starlight of Sanchez’s piano are the treatments that bring black & white photos their vibrancy and life.  The drums of Aklaff and Barsay are the spray and foam of waves that never make it to shore; not the same, but related in form and purpose.  Speed’s tenor sax brings a luxuriant heat that ably counterbalances the heavier aspects of the recording.

And though the album is best defined by its smoldering intensity, there are songs that present facets of that sound with an alternate touch.

“A Tree and a Bird” has the whimsical seriousness of a children’s lullaby, providing strange truths in a simple melody.

On “In Between,” Sanchez’s piano and Speed’s sax add a warmth to Kim’s voice that is like the rising sun fighting back the cold winter night that had settled over the city.  The music is soft and sublime and takes all the hurt away.

“Bloom and Wither” comes off as a bit scattered, but it doesn’t sound unintentional.  The proof of intent is best illustrated when Speed enters at the song’s halfway mark and provides the thread that weaves all the parts into a cohesive whole.

And “Worm,” surges and ebbs with the motion of the creature the song titled shares its name with.

Painter’s Eye doesn’t cover a lot of ground.  Instead, it stares at a small spot and slowly, delicately, explores the glorious intricacies and their infinite possibilities, exalting the worlds within worlds, with the unhurried grace of one with all the time in the world on their hands.  This is an album that will, in turn, slowly reveal itself as something very special.

There is a very nice passage written by Kim about her inspiration for the album on the album label’s artist page for Kim.

Released on the Sunnyside Records label.  Jazz from NYC.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Bandcamp.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3