Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Helen Merrill: Jelena Ana Milcetic a.k.a. Helen Merrill

The title refers to the name Helen Merrill was born with. She’s the daughter of immigrant parents from the Croatian island of Krk, on which many old cultural characteristics have been preserved. This CD is a tribute to Merrill’s roots, in part. It’s aesthetically successful due to her major efforts and those of Gil Goldstein and Torrie Zito, who were involved in arranging and adapting some of the selections. Not all of the material is from Croatia, some tunes are pop and folk ballads from elsewhere: “Long, Long Ago,” “La Paloma,” “Wayfarin’ Stranger,” “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” There are also versions of Weill/Anderson’s “Lost in the Stars” and Judy Collins’ “My Father.” The feeling throughout the album is one of warm, but not schmaltzy, nostalgia.

Actually, Merrill doesn’t appear on all tracks. There’s a movement from a kirje performed by the Lado Folk Dance and Music Ensemble of Croatia, and “Tanac,” done by two sopila (a kind of Croatian oboe) players and soprano saxman Steve Lacy.

Despite the emphasis on traditional material, the music has a consistently fresh quality. The instrumentation is varied from track to track and the charts are spare but sensitively written. On some tracks only two, three or four performers appear. The piano accompaniment by Goldstein, Zito and Sir Roland Hanna is always tasteful. Goldstein takes excellent, Bill Evans-like solos on “Long, Long Ago” and “Lost in the Stars,” employing rhythmic dislocation very well on the former. Lacy also makes fine contributions; his relaxed, lyrical work recalls one of his first influences, Lester Young.

Merrill is cast as part of a changing cast of performers here, not a dominant featured artist, and as such she does a fine job. She never did display a big range, sing with a lot of volume or scat dazzlingly, but her small sweet timbre and musicality are all she needs to perform movingly.

Originally Published