Melbreeze is reviewed by Michael Doherty’s Music Log

by Michael Doherty

Melbreeze: “Amethyst” (2016/2019) CD Review

Melbreeze is a jazz vocalist who was born in Turkey and has her own distinct approach to music. On her new album, Amethyst, she takes familiar songs and gives them a new sound, a new flavor. The first thing I noticed, however, was the album’s striking cover, with that sexy purple wig. Interestingly, the cover is basically the same as an earlier release, Turquoise, the only difference being the color of the wig and title. Amethyst follows last year’s Animazonia, on which she gave her spin to Brazilian songs like “One Note Samba” and “How Insensitive.” On this one she is joined by Scott Kinsey on keys (Kinsey is also responsible for the arrangements), Gary Novak on drums, Jimmy Haslip on bass and backing vocals (Haslip also produced the album), Arto Tuncboyaciyan on percussion and backing vocals, James Zota Baker on guitar, Oz Noy on guitar, Jeff Richman on guitar, Doug Livingston on pedal steel guitar, Larry Koonse on guitar, Brad Dutz on percussion, Judd Miller on electric valve instrument, Bob Reynolds on saxophone and clarinet, and Naina Kundu on backing vocals.

As the disc’s first track starts, I know I’m in for something unusual. The song is Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a song I’ve heard hundreds of times, but it begins with a strong and simple dance beat, already unlike other versions I’ve heard over the years. The music then has a funky, jazzy feel, with keys being the prominent instrument. And this is all before any of the lyrics are sung. Her vocals have a relaxed, alluring quality. The tune goes into this odd, dreamy segment nearly halfway through. After that, the percussion is more unleashed, getting loose. There is also some really good work on guitar on this track. Based on that first track, I was wondering how Melbreeze would handle “Sound Of Silence,” which follows it. This one begins as you would expect it to – gently, with an acoustic sound. Perhaps it is delivered just a bit faster than usual, but other than that, it is fairly standard. However, when it kicks in, it takes on an electronic sound, and a pronounced beat. Yet the vocals remain pretty. That’s followed by another Gershwin tune, “The Man I Love.” This too has a different feel from other versions I’ve heard, with a cool, cheerful rhythm. And I absolutely love the clarinet, helping to make this one of my favorite tracks. The way it combines classic and current sounds and styles is wonderful. Plus, this track features some nice work on keys. In addition to all that, Melbreeze gives us an absolutely delightful vocal performance here. The more I listen to this rendition, the more I feel it is one of the best I’ve heard. I certainly recommend checking it out. Then she gives us a nice take on “God Bless The Child.” I particularly enjoy the bass in this rendition of the classic Billie Holiday song, and there is a good little jam in the middle of the track.

These days I often find myself saying, “Everything must change.” And it must change soon. Doesn’t it feel like we’re heading straight into trouble that is so great that once we’re there it will be too late to stop it or fix it? With gun violence, and the destruction of the environment, and with an administration so corrupt that scandals sit atop other scandals and yet nothing brings it to an end. It feels like we’re rushing into an abyss from which there will be no return. Everything must change. Melbreeze’s rendition of “Everything Must Change” features more good stuff on bass, and the work on keys is again prominent. “Everything must change/Nothing stays the same/Everyone will change/No one stays the same.” There is a cool, kind of funky instrumental section toward the end. While most of the songs Melbreeze has chosen to include on this release are oft-covered tunes, there is one song I don’t believe I’d heard before, “Sailor And Widow.” It was written and originally recorded by Keren Ann Zeidel. Melbreeze’s rendition has a dance beat and an interesting vocal delivery. That’s followed by “Cry Me A River.” The first version of “Cry Me A River” I ever heard was Joe Cocker’s (from Mad Dogs & Englishmen), and so it is to this rendition that I can’t help but compare all others. This version by Melbreeze is smoother, with a decent groove, and I like the jam, which features some good work on guitar. “Greensleeves” is such a beautiful piece of music, and Melbreeze’s rendition retains that beauty, while adding modern touches, including a beat. I really like this version, and the jam toward the end kind of rocks (something you probably wouldn’t expect from this song), with some great work on electric guitar.

There were a few things that drew me to this album. The first, as I mentioned, was the cover. The second was the presence of two Gershwin songs (you can never go wrong with Gershwin). But the main reason I wanted to hear this album was the inclusion of a Leonard Cohen song. Leonard Cohen is my favorite songwriter, and I am always excited to hear an artist’s take on his material. Melbreeze chooses “Hallelujah,” and yes, that’s an obvious choice, but still a good one. This version is unlike any other I’ve heard, beginning with percussion, and developing a loose, jazzy groove. It is nearly a minute before the vocals come in. And the song is delivered at a faster clip than usual. As you probably know, there are several verses to this song, and Leonard Cohen changed them over the years. Here Melbreeze chooses four verses for her rendition. The first verse she sings is, of course, the “secret chord” verse; the second is the “Your faith was strong, but you needed proof” verse; the third is the “I used to live alone before I knew ya” verse. She ends with the “Maybe there’s a god above” verse. This version features some really cool stuff on bass. Well, it might seem an odd choice to follow Leonard Cohen with a Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers duet, but that is what Melbreeze does, giving us “Islands In The Stream,” a song written by the Bee Gees (who recorded their own version nearly two decades after the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers rendition). The country is basically gone from this rendition, but I still like it. The disc then concludes with another interesting choice, John Waite’s “Missing You,” a song you just couldn’t avoid in 1984. Melbreeze’s rendition is fairly faithful to vibe of the original.

CD Track List

  1. Summertime
  2. The Sound Of Silence
  3. The Man I Love
  4. God Bless The Child
  5. Everything Must Change
  6. Sailor And Widow
  7. Cry Me A River
  8. Friendless
  9. Send In The Clowns
  10. Greensleeves
  11. Hallelujah
  12. Islands In The Streams
  13. Missing You

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