Album reviews

Leléka – ‘Sonce u Serci’

Leléka – Sonce u Serci
(FM321-2. Album review by Alison Bentley)

“I have the sun in my heart,” sings Ukrainian vocalist Viktoria Leléka, and you believe her. This album of mostly traditional Ukrainian songs played by her international jazz quartet Leléka (she named herself after her band, who met each other in Berlin) has a uniquely delicate intensity and vibrancy.

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Album cover

The title track Sonce u Serci (Sun in Heart), composed by Viktoria Leléka herself, blends well with the traditional songs. It starts with a percussive bass groove (Thomas Kolarczyk from Poland) creating tension between the melody and single bass notes. (There’s a wonderful orchestrated version of this on YouTube – see video below).

She also wrote the music to Sirka Polynj (The Star Named Wormwood) to a lyric by Fedir Alexandrovich. It’s about the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, referring to a Biblical prediction, but there’s no wormwood bitterness in the song – just exquisite melody. The melancholy piano (Povel Widestrand from Sweden) and gentle brushes (Jakob Hegner from Denmark) have a Scandinavian feel – perhaps Tord Gustavsen-like. The vocals combine jazz and folk beautifully throughout the album; here the voice is understated but strong as Viktoria adapts to her impassioned theme.

The rest of the songs come from the traditional Ukrainian folk repertoire, covering a range of mostly women’s experiences, arranged by the band. Son personifies sleep, which is “pacing near the windows”, the gentle, breathy voice underpinned by rhythmic pizzicato bass. In Marusyn Tatko, Marusyn’s father asks God if he can leave the afterlife to go to his daughter’s wedding. Piano and bass patterns lace together behind the gentle singing – Viktoria Leléka has studied acting, and she communicates a great deal in a subtle way. A rush of drums and cymbals ushers in a jazzier section, with minor, oriental phrasing and a focused, expressive piano solo.

There are two versions of Polonyna (Mountain Valley). The first is a field recording sung in an open-throated, more declamatory style by Maria Stopnyk. It’s fascinating to compare it with the band’s version, which is brighter and more delicate. Funky leaps and stabs pull you in; exquisite spread chords fall over the lively bass solo. The Jarrett-like piano solo brings a powerful, transcendent jazz element to the song.

Dolyna Shyroka (Wide Valley) strikes a darker note as a young woman longs to escape her marriage. From the Romantic, Chopin-esque start, the voice is intimate, as if musing to herself. The piano and percussion spin her lament, echoing the mood in forceful chords and grooves; Viktoria Leléka reveals the full range of her voice. Ruzha (Rose) opens with a euphoric vocal riff and pizzicato prepared piano. There’s a sense of joie de vivre in the piano solo as it trips along with the voice like a thumb piano.

Suchiyj Dub (Dry Oak) deals with the lot of an unmarried woman who has to work in the fields. An insistent piano note opens out with the voice like a bell into Eastern cross rhythms. The singing explodes into cymbals and sweeping piano solo; beautiful spread chords bring a sensitive reharmonisation. Dobra Dolja (Kind Fate) is a traditional Ukrainian wedding song, and the uplifting, lilting tune lingers in the mind. The piano harmony redefines the melody quite miraculously.

The lyrics are helpfully translated into English in the CD sleeve. It’s a wonderful celebration of Ukrainian culture by a talented band, their musicality always engaging, subtle and emotive.

LINK: Leléka on Bandcamp

Interview with Viktoria Leléka

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