Ella Leya | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ella Leya

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The fusion genre known as Russian romance flourished in the Russian salons of the 1800s; based in folkloric music and influenced by the burgeoning Romantic movement in French literature, this potently emotional idiom came to epitomize Russian popular culture at the turn of the last century. (One of its characteristic melodies resurfaced on the late-60s pop charts when Mary Hopkin had a hit with "Those Were the Days.") On her self-produced album Russian Romance, composer and singer Ella Leya--born in Azerbaijan, trained in Moscow, and now living in southern California--revitalizes the style. She returns to its original inspiration by setting the work of the great Russian poets, from Pushkin and Lermontov to Anna Akhmatova, to new music, then scores the resulting songs for a mix of Western and Russian instrumentation. Russian Romance was released earlier this year; at the same time "Kabbalistic Prayer," from Leya's previous disc, Queen of Night, could be heard in movie theaters, having somehow turned up on the sound track to Ocean's Twelve. An irresistible performer and a whirlwind of creative energy, Leya sells the music with a dark, smoky voice and a bottomless reserve of soul. Joining her onstage--as he does on the album--is Chicago guitarist Fareed Haque. Sun 6/26, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $15, $10 for students.

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