Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 18, No.4, 2019

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Chris Barry
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Becky Noble
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
Vincent Rehel
Kat Edmonson
Jaga Jazzist
Cline & Lage
Fred Hersch
Gregory Porter
Takuya Kuroda
Edmar Castaneda
Donny McCaslin
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Keyon Harrold
Sonia Johnson
Theo Crocker
Rodrigo Amarante
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)

Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: YOUN SUN NAH


What distinguishes the American Songbook -- most of the repertoire originally appeared in musicals composed between 1920 and 1950 -- is that the interpretations by the era’s greatest musicians and singers are consistently superior to the original.

The same cannot be said for the pop and rock era, despite the music’s enduring popularity. Of course there are exceptions, where the cover version comes to be preferred to the original: Jose Feliciano’s take on the commercial release of The Door’s “Light My Fire;” the Hendrix reinvention of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower, or Sinead O’Conner’s transformation of Prince’s “Nothing Compares to You;” the Webb Sister’s sublime rendering of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will,” -- to mention a few of the few. But in general, rock and pop covers typically fall short of the original, which casts the entire genre in a dubious light in respect to its content and durability.

Is there an argument to be made that a genre only begins to earn its cachet when the interpretations consistently disclose hitherto unsuspected meaning and nuance in the originals? If the mandate of all interpretation is to bring into unconcealment what is timeless in the music, is there enough substance in rock and pop to guarantee their afterlife or will they disappear once their time has passed?

Korean-born Youn Sun Nah, easily one of the highlights of the 40th edition of the 2019 Montreal International Jazz Festival, makes the case that rock and pop are indeed the stuff of immortality. Her latest album, Immersion, forcefully repudiates the criticism that contemporary music does not inspire convincing interpretation.

As soon as she "opens her mouth to sing," it becomes immediately apparent that Sun Nah’s music comes from a very strange and fascinating place that begins and ends with her voice that she uses to sometimes astonishing effect: it can be made to shriek and evoke horror or whine like a hurting cat. And when the occasion calls for it, it can put out enough voltage to shatter glass, and then reassemble it, which is in direct contrast to her wraith-like appearance on stage and barely audible speaking voice.

Sun Nah’s revelatory voicings derive from an exceptional vocal range and extraordinary ability to probe a song’s lyrics. Like an opera singer, she knows how to contour and contract her vowels and to turn a simple phrase into the finest filigree. In short, it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s not much Sun Nah can’t do. She’s at home in all the genres of contemporary music, and that includes the Korean songbook. From time to time one catches the faint echo of the oriental gong in her song along with a nostalgia for the (interval thin) pentatonic scale. (the black keys on the piano in the key of C).

Immersion features significant original material and covers of songs that will make you forget the original. Her reinvention of “Isn’t It a Pity” effectively condemns the George Harrison original to oblivion. Her interpretation is so novel she makes the case that she deserves a writing credit. And when it comes to mining the lyrics for maximum effect, her version of “Mercy Mercy Me ” (Marvin Gaye) will leave you convinced you’re hearing it for the first time. Sun Nah doesn’t just reconstruct the lyric, she burrows into it and then devours it until it becomes a part of her, until she owns it, at which point she can share it. Sun Nah is one of those rare suns that provide some much needed cred to a genre that, unlike the standards, has yet to secure a sustainable future. Among Immersion’s note-worthies are Leonard Cohen’s heart-felt “Hallelujah” and Albeniz’s “Asturias” which Sun Nah yanks out of its conventional Iberian orbit and sends into the cosmos.

To get a better sense of what makes Sun Nah tick, think Jessie Norman, Laurie Anderson and Portishead mixed in a blender and poured into Rodin-sculpted vessel.

She is backed up by two versatile musician-collaborators of the highest order. The irreplaceable Tomek Miernowski on guitar, piano and synth while Rémi Vignolo doubles up on the double bass and percussion.

For music purists, Immersion offers wonderfully satisfying limpidity that is far too often short-shrifted in popular music, exquisite separation of instruments, timely modulations in texture and tonality, and extensive use of the most important note in music: the rest or caesura. En Espagnol – silencio.

On stage, Youn Sun Nah is unconsciously self-effacing, making sure that music deserving of much wider circulation speaks for itself. As to her most lasting contribution, she makes explicit the largely unnoticed non-occurrence that there are only a handful of songs in contemporary music where the cover is superior to the original. If rock and pop are to ensure their future standing, others, in the narrow wake of Youn Sun Nah, will have to step up to the plate.

To Youn Sun Nah and Maurin Auxéméry, the festival’s eclectic music programmer -- gomabseubnida.



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