A new name to some, South Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah has made a name for herself in her native land and was featured at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. She has now settled in France and has soaked up myriad influences including pop and folk (she sounds as though she has listened intently to Kate Bush among others), as well as American folk and jazz. Strictly speaking, her voice is not that of a jazz vocalist, but rather that of a pop singer with a jazz and folk sensibility with crossover potential, and that is clearly where her strengths lie. Accompanied by some seriously talented jazz musicians including bassist Brad Jones and guitarist Marc Ribot, the music works best on re-readings of folk-rock classics such as the on the edge interpretation of, She moves on’, originally composed by Paul Simon. Equally compelling is the kalimba-led intro to, ‘Black is the color of my true love’s hair’. Here, the pared down sound works wonders and is the kind of repertoire that compliments her voice best. There is both intimacy and warmth to the sensitive instrumental accompaniment, and while the phrasing is a little odd in parts, there is no doubting that the vocalist can sing and it is no mean feat for someone with so different a mother tongue to express herself in the English language.
Ideally, one would like to hear Sun Nah attempt some of the French chanson tradition also and she has already attracted widespread interest there with 150,000 record sales to date. Youn Sun Nah will be performing at Ronnie Scott’s on May 31.