Blue Notes: Ulf Wakenius and Nah Youn-sun

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 4:53pm

The musical dialogue between Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius and South Korean singer Nah Youn-sun - first recorded on her 2009 album, Voyage - continues on Lento, her latest release for the ACT label.

Nah, who performed with Wakenius at Backstage Live in Central in 2009, has two gigs on the mainland this month: she appears on Friday at T-Union in Guangzhou, and on April 21 at the Beishan World Music Festival in Zhuhai.

Wakenius, who will accompany the singer on both engagements, will stay on in the region to perform at Youth Square Y-Theatre in Chai Wan on April 29 as part of the Jazz World Live series of concerts.

He will be joined by his son, Eric, a collaborator on Wakenius' most recent release for ACT, Vagabond, which also features Nah as a guest vocalist. They are billed as the New Guitars Unlimited Duo.

There's a considerable degree of continuity between Nah's and Wakenius' recording projects, with some songs turning up on albums by both, with different instrumental and vocal interpretations. Then there's continuity of personnel. The core line-up of Nah's band for Lento is the same as for Vagabond: Wakenius on guitar, Lars Danielsson on bass and cello, and Vincent Peirani on accordion, augmented here by percussionist Xavier Desandre Navarre.

Wakenius, Danielsson and Peirani all contribute compositions, either independently or in collaboration with the singer.

Nah has a hand in composing six of the 11 songs, the first of which, the title track, is adapted from Alexander Scriabin's Prelude Opus 16 No4 in E minor, and takes its name from the composer's tempo instruction.

Always a passionate singer, Nah occasionally strays into stridency with this album, and the quieter tracks for the most part are the most effective. There is also the usual element of wackiness, supplied here by a melodramatically rendered interpretation of Ghost Riders in the Sky, which might not have been instantly recognisable to the late Johnny Cash.

Another seemingly eccentric choice, the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, works better, and Lento appears to have been well received in Europe, where Wakenius and Paris-based Nah have their core audience. The album has made No1 in the French and German jazz charts, which probably partly reflects a fair amount of hard gigging in both countries.

For an idea of how the father-and-son duo are likely to sound live, check out Vagabond on which the two duet to great effect on late Hungarian jazz guitarist Attila Zoller's The Birds and the Bees. There is also a video of the two on YouTube, shot last year in Sweden, playing a stripped-down version of Vagabond's title track.

The music the duo play for this concert is likely to be quite different from that by Wakenius and British guitarist Martin Taylor, when they performed in Hong Kong two years ago. Then, Wakenius seemed to defer a little to Taylor as a senior partner.

Also, with Taylor, Wakenius mainly played straight-ahead jazz, but his partnership with his son should allow freer rein to his world music leanings. Vagabond had elements of gypsy jazz, and strong Middle Eastern influences, as well as a track on which Wakenius used his guitar to imitate a Japanese koto.

Take Three

Three noteworthy albums featuring Wakenius' guitar.

  • Some of My Best Friends are … Guitarists (2002, Telarc): the fifth in a series of albums by jazz bassist Ray Brown, featuring his favourite musicians on particular instruments. Wakenius contributes an original tune, Blues for Ray, and plays on a fine version of Rodgers and Hart's My Funny Valentine.
  • A Night in Vienna (2004, Verve): a late-career document from Oscar Peterson, playing with a quartet comprising himself, Wakenius, Martin Drew on drums and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass. A fine example of small-group jazz attaining the subtlety and intimacy of chamber music, appropriately in a Viennese setting.
  • Voyage (2009, ACT Verve): Nah and Wakenius begin their musical partnership on an eclectic album that includes her original compositions and covers ranging from Nat King Cole's Calypso Blues to Tom Waits' Jockey Full of Bourbon. Wakenius' guitar is well to the fore throughout.