By Don Heckman
Singer/songwriter and pianist Ella Leya makes her New York debut at Joe’s Pub on Sunday night. It’s a rare performance by a gifted artist who should not be missed.
“It’s the voice of Ella Leya that first grabs you,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in reviewing her first album releases. “Simmering with a dark timbre, its velvet surface is occasionally tinged with flashes of sunlight.”
Add to that gently floating rhythms, and the story telling phrases which bring every song she sings vividly to iife.
Ella, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and emigrated to the U.S. in 1990, eventually reaching the current identity she describes humorously as a “Russian/Californian living in London.”
All of which is true, as well as a creative history which reaches from a career as a well-known Russian jazz singer to more jazz singing in the U.S., followed by a sequence of albums that includes such well reviewed titles as Queen of Night, Secret Lives of Women and Russian Romance., film and television music for Ocean’s Twelve, Dirty, Sexy Money and more.
Her recent album, Russian Romance showcases one of the most irresistibly passionate Russian art song forms, often described as “Russian blues.” The album features combinations of the lyrical music she has composed to the passionate, often erotic, poetry of some of her favorite Russian poets, including Alexander Pushkin, Anna Akhmatova and others.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Ella’s first novel, The Orphan Sky — which takes place in Communist Baku of the ’70s and ’80s — was described by the New York Journal of Books as “visceral and exotic as any spy novel and as authentically convincing as The Kite Runner.”
Ella Leya’s performance at Joe’s Pub will touch upon the full range of her creative life, including her captivating vocals, songs and piano stylings as well as a brief reading or two from The Orphan Sky.
Her set will also include a special guest artist: Janina Gavankar, star of True Blood and the Mysteries of Laura.
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Ella Leya sings her song “I Wish I Could” (from The Secret Lives of Women) in a video featuring Janina Gavankar.