Saturday, 1 February 2014

Youn Sun Nah's 2013 Album Lento before Youn Sun Nah Quartet's İstanbul Borusan Concert on February 6th, 2014

Let's give some biographical information first: Youn Sun Nah's original name is Na Yoon-sun and she was born in South Korea in 1969. Her mother is a musical actress and her father is a prominent conductor in the country. We don't see any important music related activities besides her role in a musical until she decided to go to Paris in 1995 to study jazz and chanson. Following her education in many famous and long-established jazz schools in France, we see 5 albums until the ACT related part of her career begins between 2008 and 2009: Reflect(2001), Light for The People(2002), Down By Love(2003), So I Am...(2004), Memory Lane(2007). During this period she starts to take stage with her own quintet and became known to Europe. Many awards taken from Korea, Grand Prize from Jazz à Juan Concours and an invitation from world famous jazz stage of US, Jazz At Lincoln Center result in her presentation also to the world stage. After the first five albums including performances from many genres, produced in 2008 but released from ACT in 2009 the album Voyage promotes her career with the very important Chevaliers of the Ordre des Arts award, which was given to many celebrity artists such as David Bowie and Dee Dee Bridgewater before. Meantime, top places in the charts, many awards and encouraging reviews from all around the world are begun to be taken rightfully. Released again from ACT in 2011 and including a spectacular cover of Metallica's Enter Sandman, the album Same Girl triggers starting of another important period in her career which is full of concerts and important awards such as ECHO's 2011 Best International Jazz Vocal among other important candidates such as Stacey Kent and Lizz Wright. The last album Lento is released in 2013. It has taken attention from many different genre listeners thanks to Youn Sun Nah's successful vocal performance and melodic compositions. A long tour of the album with many spectacular concerts for many important jazz festivals all around the world starts in the same year and is still ongoing.  The album is awarded by German Gold Jazz in 2013. When we look at the genres in wide spectrum of ACT we can say that the albums of Youn Sun Nah belong to Vocal Jazz and World Music at the same time. ACT musicians, double bass player Lars Danielsson and guitarist Ulf Wakenius can be seen in all three albums. Next to them, long time collaboration Xavier Desandre-Navarre is also on the percussion for all these works. These four musicians can be defined as a quartet formed of close friends at the same time. Mathias Eick was on trumpet for the first album Voyage, whereas Vincent Peirani is on accordion for Lento.

As far as I remembered Youn Sun Nah was a guest of Borusan Music House in İstanbul in 2012 with Ulf Wakenius. This time İstanbul audience will be able to listen to her quartet  during the tour of the last album Lento on February 6th this year. We sometimes see Simon Tailleu on double bass instead of long time member Lars Danielsson in Youn Sun Nah Quartet. İstanbul audience will also listen to this bass player. In my humble opinion, the performance will be given by passing the percussion partitions in the album to guitar and accordion will try to carry some melodic bass and cello contributions of Lars in some pieces. As someone based in Ankara I won't be able to join that week-day concert. But as similar to a well known Turkish song: "There is a concert far away. Even we can't go, even we can't listen to it, we are at this concert." My detailed review about the album is as follows:

The album Lento is influenced by many genres from a general perspective. Jazz, faces us in many parts of the album especially in instrumental performances. However, the vocal can be said to belong to a style including pop, rock and folk genres' influences and perform pieces affected by classical compositions like singing French chansons in English. 

The album starts with the title track. Lento means many things. Being the name of the place of French Commune in Corsica, it is mostly used to define a very slow tempo in music or a musical genre affected by disco. The composition and the name are actually inspired from Alexander Skrjabin's Prelude op. 16 Nr. 4 in E minor and its tempo. The duo performances of long time collaborated Lars Danielsson and Ulf Wakenius are very successful. Youn Sun Nah sings as if trying to tell us that this album would be a calmer one compared to previous ACT albums with her slightly reverberated vocal.

Lament is a composition of Youn Sun Nah and it starts with the impressive participation of Vincent Peirani with his accordion to the flawless rhythm of Lars Danielsson and Xavier Desandre-Navarre, which feels like going on for hours and we are suddenly caught by them in the middle of the room. Youn Sun Nah comes to the stage while singing the manifest like lyrics of the piece not only in an emotional state of lament consistent to piece's name but also in a tangled state of mind between desperation and bravery. "I'm not ready for anything" is the main theme. "Neither can I go forward, nor can I turn back." Lars Danielsson's melodic bass, which has strange relations with my sensitive transducers, goes along the piece by playing only the first notes of each measure without filling the background too much. However, how controlled the bass remains on the stage and how it becomes one of the most important characters of the performance with its mother-earth-like self-confidence as if it says "without me you can not exist", are hard to understand without listening. We see Xavier Desandre-Navarre, who has played for a long time with Lars Danielsson, on cajon as well as with his other percussion equipment in this piece. Especially the intense strokes to the cajon, which rises the tension to a higher level when Youn Sun Nah has just climbed the first tenisonal slope of the piece, become one of the main characters of the performance. In my opinion, this piece is one of the most harmonic pieces to the vocal style of Youn Sun Nah in her own discography. Having very sharp phrasings, Youn Sun Nah creates an easily sensible, dignified, attractive and colorful texture over other instruments. Even the performance is not among her acrobatic ones pushing the limits, the rise and falls of the flowing vocal are not only very harmonic with the phonetic structures of the words but also capable of giving the meanings of the lyrics with pronunciations. Through the end, all band members contribute to increase the tension: Youn Sun Nah passes to the high pitches. Vincent Peirani move the accordion with higher speed and intervals, Lars Danielsson pulls the strings faster and with more minimal movements and Xavier Desandre-Navarre adds some more extra touches to the rhythm. The song ends abruptly after the band's instrumental part following Youn Sun Nah's last words in her manifest. It feels like sounds stand still in the air for a while. I have to remind you that the live performances of these pieces in quartet generally are made more minimally by giving the percussion parts to guitar and assigning Lars Danielsson's bow to help Vincent Peirani in carrying the melody.

Covered many times by many musicians, Hurt of Nine Inch Nails became a totally different piece with voice of Youn Sun Nah in this album. Started with the sharp sound of Ulf Wakenius, the piece presents us again the impressive harmony between the duo of Ulf Wakenius and Youn Sun Nah. They will able to decrease and increase the tension even on their own with just a vocal and a guitar.

Composed by Youn Sun Nah and Vincent Peirani, Empty Dream is a composition in which we hold the sounds in emptiness, consistent with its name. The Performance starts with Youn Sun Nah's vocal which sounds like murmurings of a lullaby. Afterwards, we listen to a duo performance with Lars Danilesson. Lars Danielsson presents a very harmonious accompaniment to Youn Sun Nah's vocal here. The piece starts to dissolve when the accordion and the percussion come to the stage. Especially, the magic ambiance given by the accordion makes the audience feel like to be on a flying carpet.

In the characteristic composition of Ulf Wakenius, Momento Magico, we see that how wonderful performances can be produced by long time collaborations of Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius. Youn Sun Nah accompany each note of the guitar with very spontaneous and sharp scat movements. It is hard to understand which leads and which follows. For sure this shows how successful the performance is. Especially the parts where Youn Sun Nah reaches to highest pitches right after low frequencies and climbs the hills with just a single breath are amazing. After the duo entrance, we see that the other three enter the stage suddenly with a very defined and tensional rhythm. We listen to a very organic quintet in the main body. The silent parts where rhythm trio leaves the duo alone, the fantastic guitar solo of Ulf Wakenius through the end and the following lesson-like vocal performance of Youn Sun Nah make the performance a very important one. 

Compossed by Youn Sun Nah, Soundless Bye starts with solo introduction of Lars Danielsson for the main theme. The breathing sounds during this solo and the melancholic aura given by Youn Sun Nah to the guitar&accoridon is unrivaled. I strongly recommend you give attention to especially to the English pronunciation and intonations.

Youn Sun Nah composed Full Circle with Vincent Peirani. The first part almost sounds like a baroque guitar entrance thanks to Ulf Wakenius. A very fluent melody is mostly driven by accordion. Xavier Dessandre-Navarre makes us feel like there is a drummer besides the percussion with his march-like rhythms. Youn Sun Nah accompanies her own vocal in this piece.

The cover made to Stan Jones country style Ghost Riders in the Sky is also noteworthy. Xavier Desandre-Navarre presents one of the most attractive entrances of the album by his colorful and sharp beats which are in harmony with the similar vocal. The harmony between guitar, bass and accordion is surprising. In my opinion, Youn Sun Nah creates an historical performance with her theatrical vocal in the chorus. The high pitch performances of the vocal are just incredible. Melodies from the throat, passages to the rock vocal and the incredible harmony between our musicians meanwhile create a very impressive overall performance.

Waiting is a composition of Lars Danielsson and Caecilie Norby. For this reason, we just stay speechless and start to watch what's going on when Lars Danielsson starts to play his double bass (it can also be a cello since I saw before that he played cello like a bass with some effects.) like a guitar as comfortable as speaking his native language and pours himself towards Youn Sun Nah's vocal like a wine. Lars Danielsson accompany his own stood still rhythms with his cello calling us from old times thanks to the loop machine. We hear small contributions from the guitar.

The Traditional Korean song Arirang starts with the main theme given by some simple sounds from something like a music-box, wave sounds from percussion and entrance of Lars Danielsson and Ulf Wakenius. Then Youn Sun Nah starts to sing the song like a flying bird returning to home. It is a song whose sharp corners are softened compared to what we hear from traditional Korean vocals.

The cello entrance of Youn Soun Nah's composition New Dawn almost sounds like the first notes of Pachabel's Canon in D. Having talked about the issue, let me express once more that I think the compositions in the album are under a certain classical music effect. The percussion coming afterwards produce an interesting contradiction with the general aura of the piece created by cello and accordion. Youn Sun Nah once again presents a very clear performance to us with her characteristic vocal in this last piece.

The recording, mixing and mastering is all made by Lars Nilsson in Nilento Studios in Gothenburg in Autumn 2012. Lars Nilsson and his studio Nilento are very well known with their many great works and the names can be seen in previous albums.

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