Hungarian singer and songwriter Rozina Pátkai has two bossa nova-oriented albums behind her. On her sweet new CD Taladim she expands her international horizons to straddle jazz, electronic, folk, and world music. Together with a handful of instrumental collaborators, she’s created eclectic and original settings of poems by Verlaine, Garcia Lorca, T.S. Eliot, William Blake, Fernando Pessoa, and others.
The starkness of the opening title track doesn’t prepare you for the delicate richness of the intriguing arrangements that follow. Steady electric Latin percussion and acoustic guitar drive the catchy “Lorelei.” They give way to a dark spare atmosphere in “Song,” an Eliot setting that actually centers on an extended instrumental break filled with saxophone filigrees and a deep cello drone.
Pátkai intones Blake’s “Laughing Song” in an angular melody that alternates with an eerie monotone recitation – and an easy-listening sax solo, all over unexpected chord changes.
Mournful folk melodies make “Sea Song,” a setting of lyrics by Jane Tyson Clement, a quiet standout track that could be a slightly avant-garde lullaby. Pátkai’s Brazilian inspiration emerges in the Hungarian poem “Szerelem?” boasting one of her most affecting vocal performances. Here as elsewhere she displays a gift for setting touching melodies against subtly conflicting chords, perfectly reflecting that question mark after the title (the Hungarian word for “love”). The result is a (mostly) quiet but powerful tautness.
“Poe-me as Maos Nos Ombros,” a quirky electronic setting of lines by Pessoa, reminds me of Emiliana Torrini (another singer with Italian roots who hails from a completely different country). Between verses sung in Portuguese it settles into a simple three-note theme that becomes a haunting wordless refrain.
A softly impassioned ballad treatment of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Llagas de Amor” offers beautifully lush vocals, while in “A Ra” Pátkai draws surprising charm out of staccato gestures.
The album closes with an avant-jazz ballad setting of lines by Paul Verlaine sung in Hungarian and French amid eerie shrieks and whistles, followed by a folksy-sweet guitar-and-voice take on Caetano Veloso’s “O Leaozinho”. Here Pátkai’s smooth butterscotch tones remind me of Katell Keineg.
I was seriously charmed by this genre- and continent-spanning album. With a singular sensibility Pátkai mingles international elements in a spirit of cultural connection, arriving at something both original and just plain fun.