Live review

Rob Luft and Elina Duni at Ronnie Scott’s

Rob Luft, Elina Duni and Fred Thomas

(Ronnie Scott’s. 22 June 2021. Review by Peter Jones)

Elina Duni. Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska /Ronnie Scotts

It’s not often you emerge from Ronnie Scott’s at the end of an evening gig to find that it’s still light outside (as opposed to dawn breaking). But such is the topsy-turvy world of live jazz these days, and after all, Monday had been the Summer Solstice. Deprived of its usual fare of American stars, Ronnie’s has been showcasing more British talent of late, and this time it was the turn of guitar prodigy Rob Luft, fresh from his recent encounter with the Devil at the crossroads. This evening’s occasion was the much-delayed launch of Lost Ships, the album he and his partner, the Swiss-Albanian singer and composer Elina Duni, made for ECM a year and a half ago. Luft referred to the dismal gigless interlude as Brexona. During this time their plans for world domination were put on hold, only kept alive by the occasional intimate online concert. Both then and now they were accompanied by the pianist and drummer Fred Thomas..

The Luft/Duni project is a hybrid of European folk music and jazz, including a number of their own compositions. A small cabal in the audience greeted every mention of Albania or Kosovo with a ragged cheer. Duni’s own Albanian heritage came to the fore with traditional songs like Kur Më Del Në Derë (When You Appear at the Door), an arabic-influenced number about being so smitten by your beloved that you cut yourself while trying to cut an apple. At least part of this song is in 7/4 time, and from the strong contralto of the previous tune, Duni’s voice was suddenly soaring impossibly high. Attempting to sing like this would leave any normal person lying on the floor, gasping and flapping like a stranded fish. But her accuracy and breath control are extraordinary.

Rob Luft. Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska /Ronnie Scotts

As Luft pointed out, you can’t play in a jazz club without including at least one standard, and theirs was I’m a Fool to Want You. It was a gorgeous, minimalist treatment, with a lot of “bowed” guitar produced by simply manipulating the volume control.

But it was the odd one out. The duo’s recent sojourn in Egypt imparted a distinctly North African timbre to the set, as in the famous Lamma Bada Yatathanna, a traditional tune apparently composed in Andalusia around 600AD. (It appeared on Duni’s 2018 solo album Partir.) There was also a song from Kosovo – Mora Testina – and a sad, ancient Albanian number titled N’at Zaman about being unable to wed your heart’s desire. Also from Albania came Vogel – this one, according to Duni, “about a Lolita who drives men crazy by giving them Turkish delight.” And there were also songs from Italy, Portugal and France.

Fred Thomas. Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska /Ronnie Scotts

Nor was our own country forgotten. Having performed so much music set in lovely parts of the Mediterranean, Luft once decided to prove to Duni that the English seaside is just as beautiful. The two set off on a day-trip to Brighton, only to find that the weather was dull, the sea was brown, and there was “quite a lot of construction work going on”. But they got a song out of it. Always considerate of the feelings of others, Duni wrote Brighton in French so that no English people would understand the words. By contrast, when they found themselves in Sunderland, another coastal city, it was hot and sunny. The eponymous song therefore emphasises the “sun”. It’s not on the album, but Sunderland maintains the link with ships, and they made the jewel of the north-east sound beautiful and exotic.

LINKS: Lost Ships Album review

Lost Ships on YouTube

Album purchase from UK Distributor Proper

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

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