Inside the packaging of Ella Leya's "Russian Romance" is a picture of the Azerbaijan-born, Southern California-based vocalist/pianist cradling a small, dove-like bird in her hands.

Inside the packaging of Ella Leya's "Russian Romance" is a picture of the Azerbaijan-born, Southern California-based vocalist/pianist cradling a small, dove-like bird in her hands. It's a fitting image to portray the delicate, calmly passionate and mysterious beauty of her music: Russian romance songs that are based on the poetry of such Russian writers as Alexander Pushkin and Sergei Esenin. Inspired by their words of loneliness, longing, "cruel destiny" and the "invisible shroud of seduction," Leya writes melodies that are as much influenced by gypsy and classical music as they are infused with folk and jazz sensibilities. There is even a madrigal quality to such tunes as "No, Tsarevitch, I Am Not the One." Leya's voice is a marvel of sophisticated allure, and her impeccably arranged music makes for a rarified soundscape of wooden flutes, bass clarinet, percussion and the three-stringed balalaika. "Russian Romance," absent of pop concessions, is a captivating CD.—DO

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