Don’t let the delicate title fool you. Yes, there is a very pretty grace about the music on Sukyung Kim’s newest album “Lilac Hill,” but she can pivot and deliver hearty and hale, confident and stately.
Warm vibes flow off “Stargazers” which swings and meanders. Her piano is focal but inclusive, proving tight interplay with all voices is easily accomplished. The more pensive “Summer Days” has a drifting, muted quality, smooth and light. Wait for “Bluebird” to break out: the sax firmly takes its space and again, Kim on piano is able to express herself with an intimate understanding of every key, both the black and white ones and the chordal ones. Stirring it up even more, the sax the grabs the melody and runs with it. There’s some counterpoint going on in the second half of the title song “Lilac Hill” where each layer is tasted all at once until a quick surprise stop. The music resumes for a short bit, then ends almost mid-phrase, leaving the palate still wanting.
When and how did you first have the thought to make this album?
I’ve always liked composing and wanted to share my music with a broader audience. One of the classes that I took at NYU was a studio recording class. Each student gets a day to use the Dolan studio at NYU and needs to turn in the results as the final project. I thought it could be an opportunity to finally record what I want and make it into an album.
Is there an overall theme throughout these tracks, or are they related in some other way?
I wanted to write about the feelings and images that I’ve had for a while. I am inspired by the things that really happened to me. Composing feels very similar to writing a diary, except that I can express things that I can’t describe with words. All five tracks are very nostalgic in that sense.
What was the biggest challenge during production?
Self-doubt. I remember that I was scared to listen to my playing after the studio recording session. Even in the process of mixing and mastering, I kept asking myself why I should release the album. I was afraid that I might regret later about releasing the album. Then I took some time off from listening to the tracks so that I could stop judging myself. After a few months, I simply decided to share them.
Why do you find the piano the right instrument for self-expression?
The piano feels very natural to me, probably because I’ve played the piano since I was very young. The more I play, the more I like the feel of touching the wood in certain ways and what a good piano sounds like. It’s satisfying and therapeutic in a special way. I also like that it is a melodic, rhythmic and harmonic instrument and it has the widest range of all instruments. I like that it makes me learn new possibilities.
What do the musicians contribute to the overall flavor of this CD?
I remember changing the arrangements every time we had rehearsal. Each of these musicians had qualities that I admire so much and I wanted to find ways that would really display them. They suggested ideas that I would not have thought of and some of the tunes sound totally different from the way I imagined when I was writing them, but I really like the results.
What was the most useful part of your early music training that you’ve never forgotten?
One of my early classical piano teachers always told me to sing the melodies when I was playing the piano. I remember that I hated this exercise because I was very shy. But later on, I realized that singing while playing the piano really helped me to be more musical and lyrical. Also, I always start by singing a melody in the composition process.
How did you find yourself moving from classical to jazz and what do you like most about improvisation?
My mindset has changed a lot. I used to have a lot of pressure to play written music without missing a note because I was a piano player playing someone else’s compositions.
As a jazz musician, however, there is so much more freedom in making choices. Jazz to me is about communicating with other musicians and with audiences and learning the language and history. I was first interested in jazz because I was simply drawn towards the liveliness and intuitiveness that jazz had. I like that there is not a distinction between composing and playing in improvisation. And I’ve always wanted to be both a player and a composer.
How do you feel about releasing this, your first CD?
Honestly, I am both happy and nervous to share my music with the world, knowing that it will be the first thing that somebody will hear when they click my name. I’ve decided to consider it as just the beginning. Getting feedback from listeners has been a great experience and I want to use that energy to keep moving forward.
For more information, visit www.suekimmusic.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Sukyung Kim.
© Debbie Burke 2020