Helen Merrill

Aka Jelena Ana Milcetic

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Helen Merrill has never been afraid to take chances, but the veteran jazz singer is especially ambitious on Jelena Ana Milcetic -- an autobiographical (or at least semi-autobiographical) work that draws on jazz, pop, and folk as well as traditional Croatian music. This is an extremely personal CD, and to fully appreciate it, you should know something about Merrill's background. Although she was born and raised in the U.S., her parents were Croatian immigrants -- Jelena Ana Milcetic is the Croatian name she was given at birth, but the jazz world has known her as Helen Merrill. The singer (who was 68 and 69 when this CD was recorded over a five-month period in 1999) learned a lot of about Croatian culture from her parents, and by calling this release Jelena Ana Milcetic, she is celebrating her heritage. But the album is also a celebration of Merrill's American heritage. By housing jazz, pop, folk, and Croatian elements under the same roof, the New Yorker acknowledges her parents' homeland as well as her U.S. upbringing. This isn't a release that caters to jazz purists -- although some of the material is very jazz-oriented (especially Merrill's interpretations of "Among My Souvenirs" and "Lost in the Stars"), some of it falls outside of jazz. But as unpredictable and eclectic as this album is, the CD never sounds confused or aimless. From Judy Collins' "My Father" to Michel Legrand's "Nobody Knows" to the traditional Croatian song "Ti Si Rajski Cvijet," everything fits together perfectly. Jelena Ana Milcetic is among Merrill's most impressive accomplishments.

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