Jelena is a jazz singer from Serbia, who since 2002 has been a full-time lecturer at the music school ‘’ Kornelije Stankovic’’ in Belgrade. She has studied in Austria and was a lecturer at music colleges in Cape Town where she lived for four years, so she has quite a worldview in many ways. If I had been playing this without knowing where the musician originated from, I would have guessed that she was American with Eastern European roots as her approach is very Western in style, and when singing she has no accent whatsoever. On the album, there are six originals, plus four others where she provided the lyrics, and she also was responsible for all the arrangements. Given she doesn’t play an instrument on ‘Heartbeat’ that is somewhat surprising given that it is normally the lead instrumentalist (in this case it would be Vasil Hadzimanov (Piano, Rhodes)) who is responsible for that element. The rest of the band comprises bassist Milan Nikolic, drummer Vladimir Kostadinovic, tenor-saxophonist Rastko Obradovic and, on three numbers, trumpeter Strahinja Banovic. Also featured are vibraphonist Milos Branisavljevic and guitarist Branko Trijic.
Here is a singer who is incredible confidence in her abilities, and is able to handle multiple styles. On “Paladin”, it is just her and vibrant bright piano, and her sultry style is a perfect contrast to the accompaniment, while at others she is the one who is bright and flowing. We are treated to some swing, some bop, even some scat, and it is hard to realize that this is a debut album, as it is full of confidence and punch. There is even some throat singing near the end of “The Countless Stars” which sounds absolutely perfect in the context, but I am sure it is the first time I have ever come across it in jazz! This certainly doesn’t sound as if it was recorded in Serbia, as this feels like a warm New York jazz album, and it is just the photos and few folky elements which make one think it may not be from there after all.
A great voice, interesting and different arrangements, this is a jazz album to be discovered, savored and enjoyed.
8/10 Kev Rowland