Elina Duni Quartet
Elina Duni voice
Colin Vallon piano
Patrice Moret double bass
Norbert Pfammatter drums
Recorded July 2014, La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: 2 June 2015
When we left that day
losing sight of our land
all the men with one big sigh
called their women with a cry…
“Exile has always been humanity’s burden and love its faithful companion,” writes Elina Duni in a liner note for Dallёndyshe (The Swallow), follow-up to her ECM debut, Matanё Malit. Once more joined by pianist Colin Vallon, bassist Patrice Moret, and drummer Norbert Pfammatter, Duni presents a compelling new set of jazz-infused folk songs from her birth land of Albania, each wrapping its narrative arms around the primal losses of families and lovers broken by separation. With more lucidity than ever, she uses her voice to weave stories of uncompromising intimacy, a feeling only enhanced by the sensitivity of her bandmates. That said, the roles of her musicians aren’t merely programmatic, but pulse like vital organs of the present arrangements.
Much of that vitality is to be found in Vallon’s pianism, which casts its melodic nets far and wide throughout “Ylberin.” The title makes reference to rainbows, a nickname given to men by the women they’ve left behind. By a similarly ephemeral sense of beauty, Vallon expands Duni’s vocal colors to the indefinable gradients between them. As in “Unë në kodër, ti në kodër” (Me on a hill, you on a hill) that follows it, the lyrics only thinly disguise a vehemence toward separation. Through these songs, Duni puts herself in the hearts of those forced into seclusion, cursing the rifts of years as her sorrow approaches a state of ashes.
Pfammatter’s drumming borrows its tools of expression from those same interstices, moving through the Byzantine channels of “Ti ri ti ti klarinatë,” an onomatopoetic gem from the Arvanites of Greece, with the surety of a vine along a wall, and rustling through the brush of “Delja rude” (Sheared Sheep) like an open wind. The latter is an album highlight and points to the cathartic nature of this music. In a press release, Duni indeed claims an affinity with the blues, noting, “One of the fascinating things about music of the Balkans, in a lot of the folk music, is the idea that the pain has to be sung. And in singing you go beyond it.” This feeling of transcendence is especially audible in the bassing of Moret, who binds his pages with openness, whether bringing lucid attention to the gently propulsive “Bukuroshe” (Beautiful Girl) or drawing a bow crosswise to the low drums of “Kur të pashë” (When I Saw You), a traditional tune from Kosovo.
All three musicians tell parallel stories throughout the album, no less lyrical than Duni’s—not only reflecting on the narrative at hand but also drawing connections to times and places beyond observable borders. Yet it is Duni who carries the most potent magic in her satchel, into which she reaches and flings the cloud paintings of two modern songs onto canvas. Album opener “Fëllënza” (The Partridge) was written by singer and poet Muharrem Gurra, a trailblazer of Albanian popular song, and is the most embodied of the set. Like the partridge itself, it survives on barest trills and cautious movements, each more graceful than the last. Here we encounter a maternal voice for the world, seeking to use its hands for protection alone. “Sytë” (The Eyes), with music and lyrics by Isak Muçolli, is another classic, this one made famous by legendary Albanian singer Nexhmije Pagarusha. Duni brings out its innermost qualities in an attempt to part a veil of tears.
Music video for “Sytë” (with English subtitles):
But it is in the older songs where her heart carries the most blood to its destination. Duni stands, for all a melodic tower, in “Unë do të vete” (I am going to go) and “Nënë moj” (O, Mother), around which improvisational gatherings abound, while the whispered frame of “Taksirat” (The Mishap) snakes its way through desert grooves. Yet nowhere is her yearning so tangible as in the title song, which comes from the Albanian diaspora of Italy and treads nakedly to the sole accompaniment of piano. The voice is a landscape all its own, Duni seems to say, and my footprints are all that remain. Each has note value, and your soul will be the next one to sing it.
(To hear samples of Dallëndyshe, please click here.)