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My Russian Soul

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Album Review

Swedish vocalist Viktoria Tolstoy's My Russian Soul isn't the first album that put a jazz spin on Russian music; the 1967 gem Jazz På Ryska ("Jazz for Russia"), for example, went down in history as one of the most essential albums of Swedish pianist Jan Johansson's career. But it is safe to say that instrumental jazz albums with a Russian theme haven't been terribly common in jazz, and it is also safe to say that Russian-themed vocal jazz projects are even harder to find. My Russian Soul falls into the latter category, although the interesting thing is that Tolstoy uses English lyrics to celebrate Russian music. There are no Russian lyrics on this 2008 recording; Tolstoy sings in English exclusively. But the Russian theme is present throughout My Russian Soul, which finds Tolstoy embracing the melodies of Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, and other famous Russians. Tolstoy also excels on "Stranger in Paradise," a standard that is credited to American composers Robert Wright and George Forrest but is based on the work of Alexander P. Borodin (a 19th century Russian composer who is also remembered for his contributions as a chemist). Although Tolstoy brings a post-bop perspective to My Russian Soul, her expressive performances are not "pure" post-bop; this 51-minute CD is best described as post-bop with both cabaret and Euro-classical elements. Nonetheless, jazz is the album's dominant ingredient, and Tolstoy demonstrates that being jazz-oriented doesn't have to mean behaving like a jazz purist. My Russian Soul is a thoughtful, ambitious project that Tolstoy should be proud to have in her catalog.

My Russian Soul, Viktoria Tolstoy
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