Jelena Jovovic’s debut “Heartbeat” is an instant classic

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Jelena Jovovic’s debut recording as a leader is an ambitious mix of Balkan traditional song, r&b, but with the sound and feel of jazz and poetry running through it. Released June 7, 2019, “Heartbeat” is a one-of-a-kind album that makes listeners think, while lulling them with sumptuous lyrics that remind people just how big the actual universe is, and just how intimate a romantic universe can be.

Two songs on the album that stand out are “The Countless Stars” and “Heartbeat.”

About Jelena Jovovic

Jovovic’s dedication to music started early. At age 11, she won a (former) Yugoslav children’s song contest and was a devotee of the form ever since. She studied at the University of Belgrade and the University of Arts in Graz, Austria and became a vocal clinician and lecturer (including in South Africa) in addition to her work as a jazz singer. Thus far in her career, Jovovic has sung with the likes of Chuck Israels, Mark Murphy, Shelia Jordan, Dusko Gosjovic, Fritz Pauer, Oliver Kent, a couple of big bands and many others.

 The sound of “Heartbeat” by Jelena Jovovic

Since all the songs on “Heartbeat” are original, each has the potential to show who Jovovic is. It has been noted that she sings without an accent and that is true. Even when she sings in what is presumably Serbian, most listeners will not know that it is her native language. Jovovic’s scatting sounds decidedly American, meaning authentic. Her vocalese is smooth, energetic. Never does it sound forced or uninspired. That is a theme that runs throughout the album: inspired. Jovovic has made sure that her lyrics feel and sound like poetry, and so when they are sung, they are imbued with another layer of art.

Of particular interest on this album are the songs “The Countless Stars” and the title track, “Heartbeat.”

“The Countless Stars” by Jelena Jovovic

With an opening vocal quality that sounds like guttural, Mongolian heavy metal vocalizations, “The Countless Stars” runs right into its core soundscape after just a few measures. Those vocals are actually Tartar throat-singing done by Oleg Kireyev. This is another instance wherein Jovovic sounds authentically American. Not that she has to. But, since she is Serbian and has managed to do it, the accomplishment is worth noting. The song has an r&b fused with jazz flair, and so does Jovovic’s singing. Her phrases pop and bounce with the confidence of an r&b diva, the sound from the ringing horns to the vocals is celebratory. Jovovic’s lyrics are worth listening to for their aforementioned poetic quality. The song was inspired by Jovovic’s Balkan childhood and an ancient song from the region.

“The Countless Stars” represents the act of considering “the vast and starry sky from the coast of Montenegro” while Jovovic’s grandmother sings the ancient song. Here, the ancient song gets an update with horns and layered vocals.

 “Heartbeat” by Jelena Jovovic

Smooth jazz permeates the soundscape. Liquid sounding electric bass forms the forefront of the sound. Drums clack in a satisfying way that adds texture to the piece and keeps it from getting “sleepy.” A vibraphone cries like a diving bird and listeners are all in to see where this piece goes. Here, Jovovic’s rich voice is put to good use. A tender saxophone motif preps listeners for the vocals to come. The song at first sounds less like romance and more about the place of the narrator in the universe. The chorus shows up without fanfare: “I sing to remember/who and where my heart, and my soul belong to/only you/in my heartbeat.”

The song is gentle, but with serious r&b flair. And, when Jovovic takes on notes that would seem out of her range, the texture of the song gets even more interesting. Still, the poetry of the lyrics are worth noting. “Just when the shadows/remind us we’re not forever”- – makes audiences think of all the ways that people are not “forever.” “Heartbeat” is a delicate-sounding song that hits hard with deep thought and cosmic meditations made personal.

Jovovic’s  debut sounds like an instant classic. It is one jazz fans will want to listen to time and again.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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