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CD Review: Sukyung Kim “Lilac Hill”

By Hrayr Attarian

Sukyung Kim Lilac Hill

Sukyung Kim – Piano, Rhodes

Ethan Helm – Alto saxophone

Paul JuBong Lee – Guitar

Luca Alemanno – Bass

Jongkuk Kim – Drums

Brooklyn-based musician Sukyung Kim is a gifted composer and an intriguing pianist whose debut, Lilac Hill, showcases her talents to their fullest. Leading a youthful and dynamic quintet, Kim interprets five of her own intimate originals with elegance and a sense of poetry. Her sidemen share both her musical vision as well as her consummate instrumental prowess.

Kim opens the cinematic “Stargazers” with dark and scintillating chords. The group’s vibrant and synergistic performance states the main theme, after which saxophonist Ethan Helm blows warm and muscular refrains over percolating beats. His alto rises and falls over a restless sonic backdrop. Out of this emerges Kim’s mellifluous solo that bears hints of delightful angularity—endowing the tune with a subtle but definite tension.

Kim also draws on her Western classical training in both her writing and playing. Impressionistic “California,” for instance, is a tender and wistful ballad penned for her home state after immigrating from South Korea. Bassist Luca Alemanno engages the leader in a lyrical and contemplative duet that hints at a romantic sonata. He then takes center stage with an expressive and passionate improvisation. In a stimulating contrast, guitarist Paul JuBong Lee contributes a swaggering extemporization with blistering tones.

Wistful and nocturne-like undulating phrases construct the soulful title track. Kim embellishes the melody with confidence and the virtuosity of a seasoned concert pianist. Her dialogue with Helm is lovely and enchanting.

Helm’s most memorable statement is on the melancholic “Summer Days.” His agile alto maneuvers the intricacies of the piece with grace and simmering emotion. Kim switches to Rhodes for an electrifying and bittersweet sound that adds a heady dimension to the ensemble play. Drummer Jongkuk Kim’s suave and poignant polyrhythms usher in the conclusion.

Lilac Hill is a captivating and enjoyable album that marks the beginning of a promising career. On it, Kim has proven herself to be a sensitive and intelligent artist. Hopefully this is only the first installment of a brilliant œuvre yet to come.

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