Elina Duni/Rob Luft: Lost Ships (ECM 2689)

Elina Duni
Rob Luft
Lost Ships

Elina Duni voice
Rob Luft guitar
Fred Thomas piano, drums
Matthieu Michel flugelhorn
Recorded February 2020
Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover photo: Jean-Paul Dumas-Grillet
Album produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 13, 2020

You’ll have to flee,
But you’ll carry
This relentless sea,
Echoing in you, for always.

With this lyric, Elina Duni and Rob Luft share the secret of their collaborative masterpiece, Lost Ships. Between themes of migration and ecological failure, interspersed with memories of times and places, the Albanian-Swiss singer and British guitarist turn the spirit of contradiction inside out over and over until the differences blur beyond recognition. The track yielding this poetic observation, an ode to the wind entitled “Brighton,” is a veritable curtain of sound billowing in breath. Before that, however, the Italian lullaby “Bella Ci Dormi” (Beauty, You Sleep) elicits the album’s first declaration. Whereas we might normally think of such singing as marking the closing of a day, this feels more like the opening of one. The pianism of British multi-instrumentalist Fred Thomas and lilting guitar exude the same grammar. Other traditional gems, including the Albanian “Kur Më Del Në Derë” (When You Appear At Your Doorstep) and the American “The Wayfaring Stranger,” remind us that nothing has truly changed from when they were first unearthed.

“Flying Kites” is one of the many journeys herein penned by Duni and Luft and stands out for its instrumental unraveling, especially in the playing of Swiss flugelhornist Matthieu Michel, who completes the ensemble. Further originals include “Numb,” a timely plea for forgiveness, and the title song, a shapely construction that travels in curves even as it speaks straight to the heart. Another is “Empty Street,” a duet that turns ghosts into signposts for those living in the wake of their demise…

No matter what Duni touches, she turns into something far more precious than gold: time incarnate. A marvelous example is her rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “I’m A Fool To Want You.” As a lantern hanging from the outstretched hand of a dark past, it seeks redemption in an era that has forgotten its meaning. At Duni’s lips, the words remind us of just how sharp the edges of hope can be. And in making Charles Aznavour’s “Hier Encore” her own, to the sole accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, she helps us understand that nature stands in the way of love when our love of self stands in the way of nature.

Lost Ships carves a special line in ECM’s broad waters, and to its fleet I would add Amina Alaoui’s Arco Iris, Arianna Savall/Petter Udland Johansen’s Hirundo Maris, and Norma Winstone’s Somewhere Called Home for worthy company. As such comparisons should imply, it is more than a recording; it is a voyage, contrary to its title, of being found.

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