Elina Duni ‘Partir’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Albanian singer Elina Duni is not a newcomer to the ECM roster having previously recorded in a quartet format on the 2015 album, ‘Dallendyshe’. For this latest project, she operates entirely on her own, performing on vocals and piano, and covers, in a multitude of languages, (nine to be precise) the traditional songs of Armenia, Kosovo, Macedonia and her native land, as well as the occasional French language standard, and even finds time to record in both Arabic and Yiddish. The title, ‘Leaving’ in English, is actually inspired by francophone Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Prix Goncourt winning author (the most prestigious literary prize in France), and in the inner sleeve notes, we find a bi-lingual French and English quote by Duni, that, ‘We are all departing in one way or another’. It is the emotional state of yearning for somewhere that informs and serves as the motivating leitmotiv for Elina Duni on this highly personalised recording. Adding to the atmosphere is the actual sparseness of the sound, as on ‘Amara Terra Mia’, where the voice of Duni is simply accompanied by guitar.

Where this album succeeds is in conveying the message with a convincing musicality that draws the listener into the subject matter and the judicious selection of folk songs from various parts of central Europe, especially the Balkans, makes the project as a whole all the more coherent. Duni’s voice is at once sensitive, vulnerable and quite enchanting and she comes into her own on Jacques Brel’s ‘Je Ne Sais Pas’. She ought perhaps to think about a whole album of the French language repertoire. Elsewhere, Elina Duni sings in French and Spanish on ‘Mon Amor’, a hybrid, while in English, she delivers ‘Let Us Dive In’. For some variety, a song in German, ‘Schönster Abestärn’, rounds matters off nicely. An out of the ordinary recording, yes by all means, but lyrical, melodic music and thought-provoking all the same.

Tim Stenhouse