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02/27/13

Elina Duni Quartet
Matanë Malit
ECM Records

Vocal music in a language we don’t understand is normally a partial aesthetic experience, connotation without denotation. Elina Duni left Albania in 1992, when she was 10, moved to Switzerland and only recently rediscovered her country’s traditional songs. From the opening track, “Ka një mot,” her alluring voice, lonely in space, might be coming from beyond the misty mountains of Albania, pictured in the CD booklet. Matanë Malit, which means “beyond the mountain,” is one rapt, solemn atmosphere.

ECM offers a simple, obvious, but rarely seen solution to the language barrier. The complete lyrics to every song are printed in both Albanian and English. When we read the words, we understand the desolation in Duni’s voice. Her accompaniment is the Colin Vallon Trio, an adventurous ensemble that here restricts itself to framing stark outlines for this mesmerizing album that Duni describes as “the echo of my childhood, my exile and my reconciliation.”

Originally published in January/February 2013
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