There is a lot to admire about Brooklyn-based pianist Sukyung Kim's debut outing, whether it be the thoroughly narrated elements forming the individual compositions, the crystalline transparency of the recording, the dexterous performances by all involved, or the equal amount of innovation and traditional savoir-faire which defines these five original cuts. At just over half an hour, this first contact with the pianist might be short, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality.
Title track "Lilac Hill" opens the set with subtle drive, introducing an elegantly wrought melody through guitar and saxophone in unison. Brief rhythmic inserts follow instantly and showcase Jongkuk Kim 's exceptional drumming on the record straight from the start. Piano, guitar and sax subsequently exchange slurring and slithering lines in a conversational yet urgent fashion. While following this more modern approach to composing, "Stargazers" furthermore infuses some classic swing and post-bop language into a modal-harmony-based structure which finds Sukyung Kim's right hand performing full-bodied arpeggios and scale runs to great effect. Throughout the bars, the interplay between the band is on point, albeit slightly restrained.
"Bluebird"'s light-hearted rhythmic foundation evokes Latin-jazz vibes whose comfortable drive tickles some of the best interplay of the record out of the bandbass and drums being among the more prominent driving forces. The timeless quality of the composition's head gives the song an especially elegant notion. "Summer Days" follows a similar path in regard to rhythmic approach and general mood; however, here Kim switches to Fender Rhodes and drenches the sonic tapestry in a fusion light that brings to mind Chick Coreaa notion that sojourns for the remainder of the album. While this move comes at the cost of some of the character introduced before, on "California" Kim proves that she has mastered this approach too. The group brings the record home with an unusual though terrifically timed fade-out, led by Paul JuBong's fuzzy guitar lines and groovy backing by Rhodes layers and a simple-yet-simply-cool drum pattern.
The balance of sophistication and creativity Sukyung Kim demonstrates on Lilac Hill is of a rare kind, regardless of this being her debut offering. A gifted composer and engaging pianist, Kim proves she has what it takes to become an important voice in the contemporary jazz scene.
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