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Youn Sun Nah


Label: Act

Genre: Jazz / Avant Garde


  • LP x2 180gr +MP3 COUPON €29.99
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In our time and age, a jazz singer from Korea may still seem like an exotic concept. But anyone who knows how
much effort Asian countries invest in education and promotion also knows about the growing circle of jazz fans in
the region. So with notable exceptions it’s astounding that there aren’t more artists from Korea or Japan whose
names are on everyone’s lips. However, Youn Sun Nah could change all that, and as the first Korean artist
exclusively under contract with ACT, anyone listening to her debut album Voyage (ACT 9019-2) will understand
Born in 1969 in Seoul, Youn Sun Nah comes from a family of musicians - her father is a conductor and her
mother a classical singer. She made her debut in the field of music at the age of 23 but it was not until she turned
26 that she decided to make music her profession. This marked the beginning of a stylistic turning point for her:
“I’d studied French literature and adored the French chanson, so I decided to go to France,” she says. “But after a
while, I got the impression that you have to be French in order to sing chansons, so I concentrated on jazz.”
During her studies at the CIM in Paris (the oldest jazz school in Europe) and at the Boulanger Conservatory, Sun
Nah had already formed her own quintet in an international setting together with some fellow students. They quickly
gained a reputation and were invited to festivals all over France, before going on to record five well received
albums in just six years. Youn Sun Nah rose like a comet in her home country. At the first annual Korean Music
Awards in 2004, she was voted “Best Artist” in the Crossover category and a year later for “Best Up-and-Coming”
young artist in Korea. The same year she also won the renowned “Grand Prix” at the Jazz à Juan Concours in
Her next step in 2007 would point the way forward. Youn Sun Nah recorded a pop album in Korea entitled
Memory Lane. The CD was a bestseller in her home country and she also got the Danish pianist Niels Lan Doky to
co-produce. He subsequently brought her to festivals in Denmark where she met the Swedish guitar virtuoso and
ACT recording artist Ulf Wakenius. They got along so well that they decided to perform together in Korea and
record a CD. Youn Sun Nah tells us, “Originally, it was going to be a duo CD with just the two of us, but Ulf was
so busy that we needed a producer. Ulf suggested Lars Danielsson, whom I’d admired for a long time”. One thing
led to another. Danielsson not only produced, but also played bass and brought in Norwegian trumpet player
Mathias Eick. Eventually the French percussionist Xavier Desandre-Navarre from Lan Doky’s band joined the group.
The exquisite quartet displays a distinctly Nordic element on Voyage and was also a great inspiration for Youn
Sun Nah. She recalls: “With the band in Paris, somehow it was always about experimenting. We were all quite new
to the business when we started working. With Ulf, Lars, Mathias and Xavier, however, I felt relaxed and secure
from the first moment on. You don’t need to prove anything to them and that’s why you are even more daring“.
Her companions returned the compliment on the spot. “Her wonderful voice is full of feeling and emotion”, says
Mathias Eick. Lars Danielsson praised, “her outstanding timing, which is something you don’t find very often with
singers”. Xavier Desandre-Navarre summarises: “The tonal range of her voice is fantastic and she is very precise.
Her voice has a great capacity and it’s crystal clear. She’s like sunshine.” It’s anything but an ordinary jazz voice;
whether she’s scatting, singing classical or rapping, Youn Sun Nah combines mystical and artistic elements of
Korean singing with the imagination and purity of the French chanson, together with the energy and freedom of
As Youn Sun Nah’s singing brings together various elements, the repertoire on the album concentrates on
diverse predilections. There are six of her own compositions, ranging from melancholic ballads to intricate uptempo
tracks. We also find Egberto Gismonti’s “Frevo” as a showpiece for Wakenius, and Nat King Cole’s
“Calypso Blues”, which was recommended to her warmly by a French friend. For years Youn Sun Nah has been a
great fan of Tom Waits. “I always knew that one day I was gonna sing ‘Jockey full of Bourbon’. Now the time had
come”. And what a wonderful contrast Youn Sun Nah’s ethereal version is to the smoky bass of Waits’ original.