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Painter's Eye

by Sunny Kim

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    CD edition of Sunny Kim "Painter's Eye"

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1. Passing
2. Painter's Eye
3. A Tree and a Bird
4. Ink Silence
5. In Between
6. Worm
7. Bloom and Wither
8. A Slow Landscape

CD Quality - 16 bit / 44.1 khz

Whether purely out of nostalgia or seeking a sense of balance only reflection can bring, looking to the familiarity of the past can provide respite or renewed enthusiasm. Singer Sunny Kim was looking for just that sort of reconnection with her Korean roots when by serendipity she was introduced to artist/poet Sun Doo Kim. Sunny Kim was inspired to record an album, based on Sun Doo Kim’s poetry and paintings, entitled Painter’s Eye.

Voted Jazz Vocalist of the Year 2012 by the Korean jazz magazine, Jazz People, South Korean born Sunny Kim discovered her musical talents at a young age, beginning with classical piano. Because of her father’s career, the family lived in Malaysia and Thailand where she continued her musical education. She moved to Colorado where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Voice from the University of Denver. After, Kim moved to Boston to receive her Master’s in Jazz Voice from the New England Conservatory, where she studied with the percussionist Bob Moses, trumpeter John McNeil, vocalist Dominique Eade and the great saxophonist Steve Lacy.

“It was during my years at NEC when I started setting poetry to music. With drummer Brian Adler, I formed a group called Prana Trio which was dedicated to exploring compositions and improvisations based on texts of Rumi, Lao Tzu, Issa and E. E. Cummings among others,” says Sunny Kim.

Kim moved to New York in 2005 and immediately became immersed in the jazz and creative music sphere, forming bonds with a variety of musicians, including trombonist and Lacy collaborator Roswell Rudd, master percussionist Pheeroan akLaff and bassist Trevor Dunn. She has maintained an active involvement in a variety of musical projects ranging from jazz to rock to electronic music.

In the winter of 2010, a friend gave Kim a book of poems and paintings by Sun Doo Kim as a gift. The artist has been an important figure in the world of Korean art as an educator and practitioner. He was most notably featured in the film Chi-hwa-seon (Painted Fire) where he recreated works of the renowned Korean artist Jang Seung-up.

The book had an immediate impact on Sunny Kim. Sun Doo Kim’s work provided a perfect example of the Korean aesthetic of art, that of clear and composed work. “Sun Doo Kim’s style is very modern, yet it keeps to the traditional Korean aesthetic. What struck me the most was the beauty of simplicity, or as in the old Korean expression, the ‘beauty of the empty space.’” she says. Perusing the art reopened a part of Kim that hadn’t been explored in some time, a child-like sense of innocence and openness - a side she thought she had forgotten.

Kim had her friend who worked for the book’s publisher contact Sun Doo Kim. They arranged a meeting at the artist’s workplace in the southern part of South Korea, near where Kim’s grandmother had grown up. The two got along very well and Kim proposed a project where she would adapt Sun Doo Kim’s poetry to music - some translated into English.

To help create the soundscapes for Sun Doo Kim’s poetry, Kim and producer Darius Jones enlisted a tremendous cast of musicians including guitarist Ben Monder, percussionists Richie Barshay and Pheeroan akLaff, reed player Chris Speed, pianist Angelica Sanchez and bassist Sean Conly. To inspire the players, Kim presented the musicians with Sun Doo Kim’s images before recording to stimulate their imagination.

The disc begins with the somber “Passing,” a song about death and acceptance that floats hazily over Monder’s guitar washes and Conly’s steady bass. “Painter’s Eye” is a sentimental song flush with nostalgia about feelings that transcend space and time, which Kim set in bluesy tonal colors. The playful “A Tree and a Bird” plays on the theme of awakening as a tranquil scene of a lonely tree by a creek is enlivened by a playful bird – Speed’s clarinet and Conly’s bass providing the woody sturdiness to Kim’s flitting vocals.

Monder’s guitar provides a thick, heavy texture on “Ink Silence,” a stoic, existential song about the detached observation of life from afar. “In Between” is a tipsy observance of the world passing by too quickly that Kim keeps minimalistic – simple, colorful and slightly blurred.

“Worm” is dedicated to Steve Lacy; Kim has been inspired by the way Lacy set poetry to music. Kim uses elements of a Korean song form called trot – an old popular music which is based on a unique pentatonic scale – for a more Asian aesthetic, tying into the philosophical allegory of the wrinkled, worn worm pushing through the hazards of life.

The reflective “Bloom and Wither” has a very short motif of sixteen syllables but a dynamic, contemplative arrangement featuring the percussive genius of akLaff and the sensitive responses of Sanchez and Monder. “Slow Landscape” concludes as a tribute to the beauty of spoken words. There is no melody, only the breathy vocal and atmospherics from Monder’s guitar.

Kim sees Painter’s Eye as an opportunity to introduce Korean culture to the jazz community, as she has looked at jazz as an international culture. The poetry of Sun Doo Kim has presented readers with very Korean sentiments and philosophies about acceptance, nature and love, all in a very typically minimalist, Korean fashion. Kim has found another tremendously effective way of singing the poet’s praises.


released August 14, 2012

Sunny Kim - vocals
Chris Speed - tenor sax
Ben Monder - guitar
Angelica Sanchez - piano
Sean Conly - bass
Richie Barshay - drums
Pheeroan AkLaff - drums


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