The theme of Saudade is not only reserved for Portuguese or Brazilian folk poetry, but it is also present throughout the latest ECM release of Swiss-Albanian singer Elina Duni who sings in Albanian, Italian, English, and French on her second release for the Munich-based label (after “Partir” in 2018). She wanted the album to be about “places we’ve been and loved, including places that no longer exist or continue to exist only as a fragment of our imagination.”
Her crystal-clear diction seems perfect for the themes of longing which are always paired with a feeling of hope and confidence throughout the 12 tracks. Elina teams up with British guitarist Rob Luft who is the co-author of half of the tunes here, British pianist and drummer Fred Thomas, and Swiss flugelhornist Matthieu Michel. The tune which probably sums up best the afore-mentioned combination of hope and longing, of things lost and things found, is the beautiful, suspense-packed “Numb” which is the perfect showcase for the four players where they glide from uncertainty to assurance with a convincing perseverance.
The Italian folk song “Bella Ci Dormi” opens up the album, a song which was traditionally sung by musicians under the balconies of women who were being proposed to. A perfect vehicle for Elina’s angelic voice. Exceptionally beautiful, warming heart, mind and soul. She also covers “I’m A Fool To Want You” in refreshingly unassuming fashion and tackles the Traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” with just about the right portion of understatement. The very lyrical “Flying Kites” has some affectionate guitar work by Rob who started to get together with Elina three years ago at a workshop in Lausanne. Like minds it seems. Elina sometimes reminds me of Melody Gardot in her phrasing during the lower parts, especially on the somber “Lux” which somehow turns into some buoyant paean for the light which surrounds us. The piano accompaniment is effective, svelte and sparse.
I wasn’t really aware of the beauty of the Albanian language. Elina adds two traditionals from her origin, both echoing the closeness of the almost exotic sounding Balkan to the more at-home feeling of Southern Europe (“Kur Me Del Ne Dere” and “N’At Zaman”). And she closes with a Charles Aznavour composition from 1964, the incredibly sad and melancholic tune about lost possibilities in your youth and the chances not taken (you can find the original on the 1964 Barclay LP “Charles Aznavour Accompagné Par Paul Mauriat Et Son Orchestre”):
“Et j’ai gâché ma vie et mes jeunes années Du meilleur et de pire en jetant le meilleur J’ai figé mes sourires et j’ai glacé mes pleurs Où sont-ils à présent? À présent”