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The Singing Image Of Fire by Prana Trio

Prana Trio is actually the duo of vocalist Sunny Kim and multi-percussionist Brian Adler. Their stunningly original CD, “The Singing Image of Fire,” is one of the best things I've heard in the music + poetry realm in many years. I was going to call this a 'spoken word' CD, but that would be really misleading as Kim truly sings the texts – mostly very ancient, and from a variety of sources including Rumi, Hafiz ( a 14th Century Iranian poet), Kabir (a 13th Century north Indian poet and saint), and Shankarcarya (a 9th Century Indian writer). Prana Trio does more than simply plunk these writings down in a modern musical setting – Kim's interpretations really bring these ancient words alive, fleshing the texts out with an immediacy and relevance that is 21st Century fresh. Adler is an amazing instrumentalist who has seemingly mastered all aspects of percussion to the point where it almost doesn't matter what he's playing - whether it be the modern-day trap kit, the tablas or the cajon – his bubbling, percolating rhythms carry the music forward in the most graceful possible ways. Behind the drum kit, his work really reminds me of the great Mark Nauseeff – one of the true pioneers of adapting ethnic rhythms and techniques into the modern drum set lexicon.

Adler and Kim call in a variety of similarly-talented musical guests who flow seamlessly into and out of the varied musical proceedings. The two pieces featuring guitarist Robert Lanzetti and electric bassist Nathan Goheen are about as different from one another as can be. The title track starts out in a somewhat oblique art-rock mode (think John Greaves' and Peter Blegvad's great 'Kew Rhone' LP) before cutting loose with an unexpectedly heady dose of guitar-fuelled jazz-rock, while the instrumental ‘Blindfolded’ is a dark, foreboding rubato soundscape dotted with melodies essayed by Adler’s fragile-sounding melodica. The tracks with the great pianist Frank Carlberg include a pair of relatively spacious, slow-moving free improvisations (‘Out Beyond Ideas,’ and ‘Cold Mountain Path’) that evoke images of deep forests and solitary contemplation. Carlberg’s own piece, ‘Incredible Urge,’ frames Anselm Hollo’s text in a whimsically stilted piano line that suggests both Monk and Erik Satie, though Adler’s beautifully detailed jazz drumming pushes Carlberg over into the Monk end of the equation. The knotty rhythms and noir-ish harmonies evident in Carlberg’s solos on ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ are pleasantly reminiscent of those of his mentor, Ran Blake.

Though I was totally unfamiliar with Carmen Staaf, the other pianist featured on “The Singing Image of Fire,” she repeatedly delivers the goods throughout this recording. Blessed with impressive technique and finely-tuned musical instincts, Staaf really shines with glittering improvisations full of unexpected twists and turns on ‘In Our Idleness’ and ‘Courteous to the Ant.’ She sounds a little like Chick Corea on the vaguely Latin-sounding ‘I Felt Love.’ While these tunes represent the jazz-oriented side of Prana Trio’s vast musicscape, ‘Kangbyunsalja’ comes from an entirely different place. A setting for the words of the Korean poet So Wal Kim, the music has an Asian tonality and a decidedly ritualistic feel, featuring Staaf on accordion (which she plays beautifully) backed by Adler’s malleted toms and gongs. Throughout “The Singing Image of Fire,” Sunny Kim’s voice sings, murmurs, cajoles, and whispers with intelligence, clarity, and beauty. While she has more than enough chops to run away with the show, Kim is an equal partner in this collaboration with Adler. Their music seems perfectly balanced, despite the rotating cast of accompanists. Redolent of a variety of musical approaches, influences, and styles, including free-improv, densely harmonized modern jazz, art-rock, ethnic and folk music, and avant classical “The Singing Image of Fire,” at times, sounds like some great lost recording on the ECM label.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Prana Trio
  • CD Title: The Singing Image Of Fire
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Circausision Productions
  • Rating: Five Stars
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