About In Praise of Shadows
In Praise of Shadows is the first album recorded by New Orleans/Brooklyn guitarist, composer and oud player Brian Prunka. With the exception of Aria, Prunka's arrangement of a theme by Heitor Villa-Lobos, the album consists entirely of original music composed by Prunka while living in New Orleans. The album is named for the well-known book on aesthetics by the major early 20th century Japanese writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, which discusses themes of light and darkness that Prunka felt mirrored his approach to music.
Featuring a tightly-knit quartet composed of some of the standout musicians of New Orleans' more adventurous side, the album's spare instrumentation of guitar, violin, bass and drums leaves plenty of room for the music to breathe; each musician has a space in which to shape their personal individual contribution to the music. The compositions give equal weight to memorable, singable melodies, unsettling harmonies, and seductive rhythms while evoking an almost cinematic atmosphere. Prunka gives primacy to his compositional side throughout; while there is plenty of compelling improvisation, it is in service to the overall mood of the album rather than aiming to impress with jazz guitar pyrotechnics.
Brian Prunka—guitar, oud
Recorded at Word of Mouth Studio, New Orleans, LA 2001
Mastered by Bill Seigmund at Foothill Digital, NYC
-Review by Dave Madden, Splendid Ezine
A violin in jazz is as much an anomaly, if not a downright faux pas, as a piano in a marching band. Add an equally foreign instrument, like the oud, to a trio of drums, bass and guitar, and there's little or no chance that we'll hear anything palatable. So how is it that guitarist Brian Prunka and his ragtag ensemble have made something as pleasing as In Praise of Shadows -- a graceful union of instruments, gorgeous harmonies and colors? Perhaps Prunka's success comes from the way in which the tunes are tailored to the instruments rather than vice versa. Unlike groups that force "exotic" instruments into uncomfortable realms, each of Prunka's players is allowed to be himself; the traditions of the violin meet those of the guitar, and so forth. The former plays the gestures to which it is accustomed -- long drones, emotional and rubato phrasing, etc. -- and the latter comps along with the occasional solos, and drums and bass keep it together. The result is a blend that meets somewhere between Hungary, Lebanon and New York.
Take "Aztec", for example. It opens like a fairly standard jazz arrangement -- a bass groove with cymbal accents. Then the violin arrives; it takes only a few bowings to transport us to a Gypsy village. Prunka complements this textural crazy-quilt with his Joe Pass-inspired mellow guitar tones. "Agritpop" sits aside a similarly vigorous stylistic Tilt-a-Whirl, layering string pizzicatos over a tight Cambers/Cobb-style rhythm section. "Habanera"'s rhythm is clearly as spicy as the title would have believe, but the piece is rife with "trading eights" and Middle Eastern melodies. In the wrong hands, it would be a misbegotten mess of musical gene-swapping, but Prunka and his crew make it sound as natural as the birds and the bees.
This is one of those cases where written descriptions won't do the music justice; you have to listen to understand the extent of Prunka's craftsmanship. The musicians' attention to detail, and their willingness to mix and match the sounds of different worlds and cultures, have created a unique and spirited album that you won't quickly forget.
-Review by Dindi Soutine, Where Y'at Magazine
Brian Prunka is one of the most intriguing jazz musicians in town. Prunka is an eclectic and adventurous composer who is equally comfortable playing jazz guitar with his quartet or oud in his group Mahfouz, which often has tinges of Middle-Eastern and Indian influences.
In Praise of Shadows is a seamless flow of gorgeous jazz exotica that calls to mind the work of John Abercrombie, Charles Lloyd, Joe Pass, and the contemplative side of the music that often finds its way onto the E.C.M. label-Slightly classical, intellectual, spiritual, expressive, dark, moody, cool, and ethereal. This music floats and has a soothing quality that puts one in a calm, dreamlike trance. There are a few points where the music soars and other times when Prunka and Rhody reach piercing crescendos that gently remind the listener that this is definitely jazz, not New Age music.
-Geraldine Wyckoff, OffBeat Magazine October 2001
There are no determined boundaries in the music world; it's a universe of sharing. Transplanted New Orleanian Brian Prunka, a guitarist and oud (middle-eastern lute) player, takes advantage of the freedom on In Praise of Shadows often in unexpected ways. It's an album of all original compositions that contain a strong sense of discipline matched with jazz's self-determination. The disc's opening cut immediately surprises with its duel [sic] nature of airiness and power. Prunka allows violinst Matt Rhody, a talented and inventive player, to make the tune's initial quietly passionate statement that is held steady by the metronome-like rhythm of Tommy Sciple's bass while urged on by the demanding drums of Mark DiFlorio. Prunka's guitar finally makes a gracefully tasteful entrance. While the music here is certainly unfamiliar and moves through numerous genres and influences, it remains inviting and even compelling. Perhaps it's that Prunka, a technically proficient musician, reveals a lot of heart. This remains the constant whether he and his quartet move to middle-eastern influences and gypsy strains or return to these shores to investigate a myriad of jazz forms. It's there in the softness, even prettiness, of his performance on his tune "Rain" and the joyful play of "Habanera." Though with its solemn, dirge-like rhythm "Aria" reeks with melancholy, it is not without passion though we admittedly welcome the relief of "Night." Serious yet stimulating, In Praise of Shadows piques the interest with its creativity while often beckoning the soul.
-Interview from Natural Awakenings magazine, New Orleans, December 2002
NA: What is the message of In Praise of Shadows?
BP: The title comes from a book by the Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki. He discusses the rise of a modern Western aesthetic, which favors light, especially in architecture, and contrasts it with the traditional Japanese aesthetic, which depends on a careful balance of light and shadows. I would say the overall message is that the understanding and appreciation of opposites is important in art and life; without darkness light loses its meaning.
NA: What was your inspiration for this CD?
BP: I wanted to create music that was both simple and compelling, and explore the convergence of some musical areas I've been interested in: jazz, classical, eastern European, gypsy, Arabic, and pop music. The music was also inspired by the musicians whom I was fortunate enough to be writing for: Matt Rhody, the violinist, Mark DiFlorio, the drummer, and Tommy Sciple, the bassist.
melodic wave action focusing on the ebbs without slipping into doldrums
Life in Southern California is a place of sunshine and brightness, of speeding highways and spotless drive thru-s. _In Praise of Shadows_ is none of these things. Rather it evokes memories of late night drives through wet Chicago streets, an afternoon spent relaxing on an Orleanean coffeeshop wilst thunderstorms keep time or the maelstrom which is Boston's mass transit at rush hour. If you prefer news to sitcoms buy this album, if not, well, buy it anyway and culcha' yourself.
The CD is great! I only listened to the short samples on the website for a couple minutes when I knew that I had to have it. The moment I got the CD I played it over and over. I knew it would be great and it did not disappoint!
This CD is one of my favorite!! I'm so glad that I met brian prunka's music. It always be with me.......
Susan Landry (Gallery owner)
Music to live by,
I play this CD every day, car, home and especially the Art Gallery. My Partner heard the CD and ordered 4 more to give to friends. Can't get enough of the mellow mystical beautiful music.
Good for love making and doing chores around the house
This CD is great.
In Praise of Brian Prunka
In Praise Of Shadows is guitarist Brian Prunka's first recording effort. This is hardly believable if you consider the maturity of the compositions and the quality of the execution. The tracks on this album could only come from someone who has played a lot of music and has spent a long time listening to many different composers and players of improvised music. It will take the listener only a few minutes to realize what a great mood this album has. The violin (Matt Rhody) and the guitar blend together in a very subtle, dreamy way. There is something extremely compelling in the dialogue between the two instruments either in improvisation or when sharing written parts. The beauty of Prunka's music comes from the fact that it seems to go for nuance and subtlety over anything else. The same goes for his bluesy improvising in which his fascination for Middle Eastern music and his Slavic soul come through in glimpses. The melodies are clever but never contrived and always presented in a carefully elaborated mood. In the rhythm section Tommy Sciple and Mark DiFlorio deserve high praise for their intelligent and highly sensitive approach.
In Praise of Shadows is poetic and it is beautiful new music.