Although her UK debut at London's Vortex was in May 2009, South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah has been a figure on the French jazz scene since the mid '90s when she moved there to study jazz and French chanson.Voyage, her sixth release sees her deftly accompanied by some of the top names in European jazz.
One phrase into "Dancing With You" and it's clear that here is a remarkable voice. Sun Nah possesses the sensuousness of Melody Gardot, the quirky, theatrical air of Björk, and the blues of a Parisian chanteuse. On the opening "Dancing With You," Ulf Wakenius accompanies softly on acoustic guitar and Lars Danielsson's melodica brings a Parisian feel to a tender love song.
Half the tracks are Sun Nah originals and reveal her to be a romantic at heart. Her songs are tinged with a sweet melancholy, like the lovely "My Bye," which features a plaintive solo from trumpeter Mathias Eick. The Norwegian also features on the beautiful title track, where all the nuances of Sun Nah's voicesoothing yet fragileare heard. Eick's solo is sensitive and gently paced, providing perfect sympathetic background. Danilesson's "The Linden"with its melancholy air and brushes like a gentle breezecould have been written for Sun Nah.
Sun Nah's cover songs are rhythmically more engaging and reveal the impressive range and operatic quality of her voice. Egberto Gismonti's classic "Frevo" sees Sun Nah scatting bebop style with tremendous facility and reaching a flamenco-like passion. Nat King Cole's "Calypso Blues" is a sheer delight, with Danielsson laying down a gorgeous groove over which Sun Nah's sultry voice plays with the lyrics, reaching a falsetto which might just crack glass.
Tom Waits could probably retire on the royalties received from covers of his songs, and here Sun Nah takes on "Jockey Full of Bourbon." With Wakenius sounding slightly Marc Ribot-ish, and a swinging groove courtesy of Daneilsson and percussionist Xavier Desandre-Navarre, it is a tad too faithful in spirit to the original to really stand out, but is enjoyable nevertheless. More interesting is the quirky original "Please, don't be sad," which features what sounds like facial percussion and Wakenius' darkly funky guitar punctuation.
"Shenandoah" is a long way from Korea, but Sun Nah brings a haunting beauty to this classic of the American songbook. "Inner Prayer," another beautiful original, has a touch of Americana about it and Sun Nah's delivery is yearning and vulnerable, underpinned by washing cymbals and Eick's fragile, puffs-of-air trumpet solo.
The final track, Carlos D'Alessio's seductive and moody "India song," sees Sun Nah caressing the lyrics in French, accompanied by bass and minimal acoustic guitar.
The French may well have been keeping Youn Sun Nah a secret all these years. A voice this specialwith songwriting skills to matchmay breed jealousy. Unfortunately for the French, Youn Sun Nah's talent is too great to confine and the rest of the world awaits a chance to hear this unique talent.
Dancing With You; The Linden; Calypso Blues; My Bye; Jockey Full of Bourbon; Voyage; Please, don't be sad; Shenandoah; Come, Come; Frevo; Inner Prayer; India Song.
Youn Sun Nah: vocals; Ulf Wakenius: guitars; Lars Danielsson: acoustic bass, cello, melodica; Xavier Dessendre-Navarre: percussion; Mathias Eick: trumpet.