Elina Duni: A Time To Remember

The Albanian singer again capitalises on her elegiac way with folk, poetry and jazz, adding in some Sondheim minus the theatre


As often on her albums – this is her ninth, the second with this fine trio – the Albania-born, Switzerland-raised singer Elina Duni starts in what is to her a second language, tentatively exploring the French words of the poem Evasion (Escape) by the Belgian–Israeli poet Esther Granek. The subdued accompaniment suggests the ebbs and flows of the sea, one of the main symbols in the poem.

From then on, she mixes lyrics from Albania and Kosovo with songs in English, expressing herself quietly but expressively in whatever tongue she chooses. The title track has some of Nick Drake’s fragility about it, the lightest of guitar and piano accompaniment supporting the elegiac lyrics until a hesitant flugelhorn slowly enters. Whispers Of Water is barely audible at first, Luft’s guitar chiming in support, while the traditional Albanian song E Vogel (Little One) is a delighted, playful love song to a growing young girl.

Four of the most interesting songs come in the second half of the set, after a brief and beautiful vocalised duo with Luft on Dawn. The fine First Song, with music by Charlie Haden and lyrics by singer Abbey Lincoln, is taken at a tentative pace, reflecting the wonders of that first song one ever heard. So gossamer thin it barely straggles across the line, it holds together magically. Two standards make an appearance, the usually clichéd Send In The Clowns transformed by Duni’s light touch and the softest of piano and guitar notes behind her. Given its overly theatrical history, it is not a song most people should now sing, but she gets away with it perfectly. As she does too with Sammy Kahn’s I’ll Be Seeing You, a loving and oh-so minimal farewell to a lover, and an album’s audience.

But it is the ethereal Sunderland that best hits the mark, another Drake-like song of reminiscence and premonition. A southern British seaside city – Brighton – featured on the same quartet’s Lost Ship album in 2020, so a coastal pattern seems to be emerging here – and the evocative quality of this song is note-perfect. Duni seems to be able to conjure up places, images and feelings with reticent ease, suggesting strength and understanding with minimal effort. This excellent set adds to her growing reputation.

Evasion; Hape Derën; A Time To Remember; Whispers Of Water; E Vogël; Dawn; First Song; Mora Testinë; Send In The Clowns; Mallëngjimi; Sunderland; I’ll Be Seeing You (53.44)
Duni (v); Rob Luft (elg); Matthieu Michel (flh); Fred Thomas (p, d). Pernes-les-Fontaines, Vaucluse, France, July 2022.
ECM Records 5519904