CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Elina Duni – Partir

Elina Duni – Partir
(ECM 670 8641. CD Review by Jane Mann)

Partir is Albanian-born, Swiss singer/songwriter Elena Duni’s fifth album, and her third for ECM. She appears to have “gone solo” as Sandy Denny once put it. She presents us with nine heart-rending songs about lost love, unhappy departures and exile in a variety of different languages, and from a diverse set of traditions. She has previously always recorded songs in Albanian, but here she sings in Albanian, Kosovan dialect Albanian, Italian, English, Portuguese, Arabic, Armenian, Yiddish, French, and Swiss-German. She accompanies herself on guitar, piano and percussion. The result is a very intimate recording of great sadness in an astonishing array of languages and genres, not necessarily including jazz.

Some of the tunes are traditional folk songs: there are two Kosovan songs with very bleak lyrics – one about a mother losing her daughter, with a minimalist piano accompaniment and some lovely vocalising which almost tips over into mournful ululation. The other, about a woman losing her husband to exile, is exquisitely sung a cappella, with a chorus which sounds almost Hebridean to my ears.

There is a short Armenian number with oblique lyrics of moonlight and loneliness which could be a lost Leonard Cohen song but for the Balkan quarter tones in the melody. There are two Albanian songs with lyrics which speak of unbearable loss: “And I washed the road with my tears /…My heart knows I have only been weeping / Since I was a child, right through until I grew old.” The tunes, however, are beautiful, especially when Duni ornaments the melancholy melody with her supple, ethereal voice. My favourite is called Vaj Si Kenka (How) which manages to be chanson, blues and traditional Albanian all at once, with a simple guitar accompaniment.

Duni also includes actual chanson, for example Jacques Brel’s Je Ne Sais Pas, which she sings thoughtfully over a spare piano accompaniment; no melodrama, just achingly sad. There is one Duni composition, the only song in English, called Let Us Dive In, which suggests love ending, using that old metaphor the sea, which reminded me fleetingly of Nick Drake. This is a lovely, uncategorizable CD of ineffable sadness. As she says in the liner notes:

Nous sommes tous en partance, amenés un jour ou l’autre
à être arrachés de ce que l’on aime….
Tout ce qui nous reste c’est l’inconnu devant nous.

(We are all departing, bound to be torn away one day
or another, from what we love…
All we are left with is the unknown ahead of us.)

Even with this bleak outlook, I would love to hear her live. Disappointingly, I can’t make the Jacques Brel tribute show in Leuven in Belgium in which she is taking part in November, but I note that she is playing in several places in England this autumn, including the London Jazz Festival on 16 and 18 November.

LINK: Tour dates

Categories: CD reviews

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