Matan Malit

Though my knowledge of the Albanian language is rusty to the point of being absent altogether, I had little difficulty understanding the beauty found on Elina Duni’s ECM debut album, as lovely a collection as I’ve heard in a while. Part of the beauty here is traceable to the gentle jazz piano accompaniment provided by the always-interesting Colin Vallon. But Duni’s exquisite vocals, all sung in her native Albanian, are what give this album its distinction and its emotional power. Duni has a terrific voice, and though she left her homeland more than two decades ago, she is obviously still in touch with her roots, with the folk music of that Balkan nation. “I fell in love with the old songs,” she said in a press release, “and discovered that not only could I sing them … but that this was really my voice, emerging in a very natural way. It was as if it had been waiting to be activated.” There is great poetry in these songs, a poetry not dependent on understanding the language. But translations are provided in the liner notes, and any listener who takes the trouble to read these lyrics in English will find additional depths of feeling and stark beauty in those translations.