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Aleka Potinga: Aleka

Ian Patterson By

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Aleka is the eponymous debut EP—and stage-name—of Alexandra-Ioana Potinga, a Romanian jazz vocalist and cellist based in Dublin. Aleka performs in several bands, as vocalist in Tommy Halferty's Camus Jazz and as cellist/backing vocalist with Ruba Shamshoum. This outing features her working band at time of recording (bassist Barry Donohue has since replaced Kevin Higgins) on four selections—two of Aleka's originals plus Nik Drake's "Riverman" and a reworking of a song from a Romanian film.

At just under eight minutes "Breeze" affords both Aleka and her band plenty of room to express themselves, with Chris Guilfoyle 's sparkling solo the highlight. Donohue on electric bass and drummer Brendan Doherty's buoyant rhythms underpin Aleka's crystal-clear vocals, chanted motifs and, as the music fades, an improvised flight that leaves you wanting more.

A teacher of jazz singing at Newpark Music Centre, Aleka demonstrates the art of interpretation on "Riverman," where she leaves her own indelible stamp on this well-known song whilst remaining faithful to the gentle allure of the original. At the heart of the arrangement is the singer's wordless improvisation—passionate yet controlled. With versions by Brad Mehldau, Claire Martin, Andy Sheppard, Lizz Wright and Lee Ritenour/Kurt Elling amongst others, "Riverman" has undoubtedly entered the contemporary jazz cannon but you'd go a long way to find a more enchanting vocal reading than Aleka's.

The breezy Brazilian rhythms of "Samah," carnivalesque in fact, belie the source of inspiration—that's to say, the plight of a young Iraqi refugee called Noor. Aleka's extended improvisation, sunny and free-flowing is followed by a moodier response from Guilfoyle, the two then linking in a free passage that is curiously brooding yet uplifting at the same time. Driven by Doherty's propulsion, and with Aleka's stirring vocal to the fore, the music swells in a powerful finale. "Song," from the Romanian film Parasutistii (1972), sees Aleka employ the cello in accompaniment to her Romanian-sung vocals. Her caressing delivery on this pretty ballad, backed by a simple bass ostinato and Guilfoyle's dreamy ambient sound-sculpting, provides a fittingly hypnotic note on which to end.

Short but sweet, Aleka is the impressive debut from a talented singer with equal measures of potency and nuance in her craft. A name to watch out for.

Track Listing: Breeze; River Man; Samah; Song.

Personnel: Aleka: vocals, cello; Chris Guilfoyle: guitar; Kevin Higgins: bass; Brendan Doherty: drums.

Title: Aleka | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: EM Records

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CD/LP/Track Review
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Aleka

Aleka

EM Records
2017

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