If one were to listen only to "My Favorite Things," the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein Great American Songbook standard that opens Same Girl, one might deduce that Korea's Youn Sun Nah is just another cabaret singer with a pretty voice. The kalimba with which she is accompanying herself as she sings -- the sole instrument heard -- lends a sense of purity to the tune, and although the vocalist avoids the usual routes taken with the song, there's no real reason to get excited. Yet. Then things get interesting, fast. As she works her way through material from sources as diverse as Randy Newman, Sergio Mendes, and Metallica -- yes, Metallica; she does a mean "Enter Sandman" -- in addition to two original compositions and a Korean standard, Nah establishes that, in fact, she is incontestably an original, a jazz singer of great range, complexity, emotion, and ideas. Precision timing and sharp diction mark Nah's approach as she traverses the lyrics, but it's not only her technical prowess that makes Same Girl (her second release as a leader on the ACT label, after having spent a decade with a French band) such a delight. For one thing, she is constantly full of surprises. On the Mendes tune, "Song of No Regrets," Nah could have followed the rule book and sung the number as a samba. Instead, she turns it into a near a cappella minimalist dirge, Lars Danielsson's cello bringing to the rendition an unexpected eeriness and majesty. Terry Cox's "Moondog" is something else altogether, all jutting angles and piercing barbs, Ulf Wakenius' guitar and Xavier Desandre-Navarre's drums seemingly flailing willy-nilly behind Nah's warbles, yet somehow making perfect sense in the context of the arrangement, even when Nah breaks the solemnity with a jarring kazoo solo, of all things. For a real taste of her ability to knock a listener out cold, though, Wakenius' "Breakfast in Baghdad" is the place to go: to call Nah a scat singer is like calling John Coltrane a guy who fooled around a bit with the sax. Nah is a wildwoman let loose, treating each syllable as a new adventure in acrobatics, the musicians flying free and fancifully behind her captivating, seriously stunning ravings. Youn Sun Nah doesn't simply interpret; any good jazz signer can do that. She gets to the root of a melody and a lyric, deconstructs it wholly, and then presents it in a way it's never before been heard. Not many around who can do that anymore.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin