Youn Sun Nah, ‘Lento’ (ACT)
If you haven’t heard Youn Sun Nah yet, fix that. Shockingly original, haunting, witty and charming, she’s worth checking out on record or live. Though raised in Korea, Nah has lived in Paris since 1995, where she is a top-selling artist and was awarded the honorific “Chevalier of Arts and Letters” by the French government. She sings in a huge alto with clarity, strength and control and a dramatic suppleness that keeps you guessing as to just how she’s going to enter each phrase. She really knows how to use silence.
On the aptly titled “Lento,” she offers mostly original tunes in spare, minimal settings of guitar (Ulf Wakenius) and bass (Lars Danielsson) with some reedy, chanson-flavored accordion (Vincent Peirani) thrown in. If her version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” doesn’t pierce you to your soul, you may need a tuneup. On one of two collaborations with Peirani (she writes the lyrics), “Empty Dream,” she skitters insouciantly down a scale with Danielsson, like Sheila Jordan might. , and On “Wakenius’ “Momento Magico,” she offers a full-out scat that is so deft — and funny, the way she keeps punching a low, “doh-doh-doh” figure — it is hard to keep a straight face listening to it.
In her irreverence and willingness to bring in non-jazz influences (electronics, folk, classical, rock), Nah is in the same league as the wonderful Live Maria Roggen, from Norway, especially when the Parisian goes hog wild into Tom Waitsville on “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” On “Full Circle,” she doubles her voice electronically, still managing to sound clear as spring water. “Waiting” features electric cello. The gorgeous title track offers poetic lyrics set to a Scriabin prelude.
It’s not often a voice this distinctive comes along.
Note: Youn Sun Nah performs June 24 at the Kirkland Performance Center.
Other new releases
Black Sabbath, “13” (Universal Republic)
Goo Goo Dolls, “Magnetic” (Warner Bros)
Jimmy Eat World, “Damage” (RCA)