ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Elina Duni is an Albanian singer who was trained in jazz and composition. With that as her foundation, she's turned her focus to the traditional music of her homeland. Critic Tom Moon says Duni's latest release offers a transfixing balance of old and new.

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TOM MOON, BYLINE: When she was growing up, singer and composer Elina Duni says she didn't pay much attention to the folk music of her grandparents. She went to music school in Switzerland, and there, a pianist friend asked if she knew any traditional Albanian songs. She did not and that sent her on a search to discover the music of her homeland.

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MOON: This folk song has rattled around for a long time. It's safe to say that Elina Duni's version, with its coloristic backing, isn't the most traditional. It reveals the alchemy behind this transfixing collection. Though they're trained as improvisers, Duni and her group interpret these plaintive melodies with great reverence.

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MOON: Listen to how Elina Duni sings. She's poised but fierce as she stretches the themes, pushing until they're about ready to snap. Her musicians enhance the effect, surrounding her with expansive, beautifully nuanced chords that carry traces of Maurice Ravel and also Bill Evans.

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MOON: Elina Duni has been working with Albanian folk songs since 2004. She says she's moved by their poetry every time she sings. The lyrics tell of love, lust and honor, and in the grand tradition of folk songs, death. And you don't have to understand Albanian to appreciate what's happening here. Starting with somber and often heavy music, Elina Duni and her group wind up in a soaring, graceful realm that is unlike anything else.

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SIEGEL: The new album from the Elina Duni Quartet is called, in Albanian, "Matane Malit." In English, that's "Beyond The Mountain." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

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