MAKING A SCENE
by Jim Hynes
I Love Paris
I Love Paris is the follow-up for progressive vocalist Melbreeze to her largely Latin Animazonia and most directly to her 2019 Amethyst. Like the latter, I Love Paris is an album of radically reimagined standards. The Turkish-born vocalist has resided in L.A. in recent years and has stamped herself as a trailblazer, as her approach to familiar fare conjures up such comparisons to daring vocalists such as Cassandra Wilson and Madeleine Peyroux. Improvisation is at the heart of her style. This quote from Leonard Bernstein, when changing the pronoun/possessive to ‘she/her’ directly applies – “…Jazz is almost completely a player’s art, depending on improvisation rather than composition…It’s the player who, by improvising, makes jazz. He uses the popular song as a kind of ‘dummy’ to hang his notes on. He dresses it up in his own way, and it comes out as an original., so the pop tune, in acquiring a new dress, changes its personality completely, like many people who behave one way in blue jeans and a wholly different way in dinner clothes.”
Melbreeze, with her mysterious, smoky, deep low-end voice, and utterly unique phrasing, has recorded with big bands, recorded traditional Spanish, Latin, and other music across her previous nine albums but this one continues the course she established with Amethyst except that she departs from her mainstay collaborator, founder and former Yellowjacket bassist Jimmy Haslip. Instead, she co-produces with keyboardist Scott Kinsey, who also figured prominently on Amethyst for these imaginative arrangements of the Great American Songbook and familiar pop tunes. Besides Kinsey, only a couple of the forward-thinking group of L.A. players return – drummer Gary Novak and percussionist Brad Dutz. Yet, they are joined by arguably and even more progressive group that includes tenor saxophonist Doug Webb, trumpeter Tim Hagans, guitarists Pedro Martins, Josh Smith, and Yotam Siberstein; bassists Tim LeFebrvre, Hadrien Feraud, and Travis Carlton; drummer Gergo Borlai, cellist Artyom Manukyan, and background vocalist Mer Sal.
Melbreeze and Scott Kinsey have been collaborating for years, but this is their first co-produced album. The songs are born out of countless jam sessions where they riffed off each other. A Turkish children’s game song makes its way into “Sentimental Journey,” and an improvised spoken word story appears in the title track. In some regards, these interpretations are even more daring then Amethyst, which would have been difficult to conceive after that rewarding listen. She and the band, mostly in slightly different quintets or sextets throughout, magically stamp interpretations from “Autumn Leaves” to “I Fall in Love Too Easily” to “Dat Dere” to “Don’t Explain” to “My Funny Valentine” with several others as well. It’s a percussive, jazz/world music fusion sound marked by Fender Rhodes, chiming electric guitars, effects such as children voices, paper effects, and creative vocal harmonies. There are several economic solos that branch off the melodies. As this writer stated on her previous release, if one were to tune in mid-song (i.e. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”) it would be difficult to necessarily name the tune. At first, given the sacred nature of some of these tunes, it could put a listener off but the re-imagining, especially after a few listens, is not only rewarding but compelling.
Explore Melbreeze’s catalog and you’ll find that she’s always had this definitive adventurous streak, one that she’s employed across several world genres and most recently, as here, The Great American Songbook. An album of Cuban music in also in works. Stay tuned for more intriguing music from this singular artist.