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Toronto's Michele Mele is one in a line of vocal jazz singers dating back to Peggy Lee who dares to write songs for the sheer joy of creativity. Her debut release, Like This, is a catalogue of mainstream musical styles. Unfortunately for jazz lovers, Mele showcases her cool singing talent to the point of stunting the very music behind it.
Mele’s music declares her independence while acknowledging jazz traditions. She was raised on classical piano, and (at least) three generations of her family have revelled in song. “Music played a very important role in our family life growing up. My father is a guitarist (among other instruments) and my mother is a singer and plays the accordian. All four siblings played the piano, though I was the one who carried on,” says Mele.
Her lyrics are intensely personal yet her music rings with choruses of big band, swing, Latin and pure west coast cool. She composed all of the 12 tracks on Like This, with Danny Colomby pitching in on two songs.
“I’m not in control, I can’t help myself.”
It is clear that Michele Mele has lived her music. She delivers the title track with such conviction that the listener could whistle the melody for days. We know we are in for some textured musicianship with the dawn of producer Don Breithaupt‘s first piano solo. Mele is adept at sequencing her songs to account for the ebb and flow of fluctuating inspiration – “Like This” and “The Zone” providing outstanding examples. She can be cheeky, as on “Too Many Men.” As an artist who considers herself to be on a musical journey, Michele Mele introduces this first record as a powerful prologue in her epic metaphor.
This record defies rigid stylistic casting. “I think that people like to hear something beautiful no matter what the genre...” says Mele, “and it's time to welcome peace and good intelligent thoughtful things into our lives.”
Like This is superbly produced. Don Breithaupt‘s seasoned aural atmosphere combines powerfully with Mele’s great momentary ideas. The tempo change of “Not Enough Room” is welcome. “Emily’s Eyes” personifies the whimsy of Mele’s artistic spirit. “I Only Hear the Song” features some wonderful flugel horn and harmonica solos (short as they are).
That may be the biggest problem with this collection: arrangements that are too tightly compressed. Mele displays her voice at the expense of musical expanse. We zip through 12 songs in just under 47 minutes – an average of just under four minutes per track. Most of the songs are faded at the conclusion of the vocal score, and plenty of heavyweight solos remain shunted. We long for Bill McBirnie’s fine fluting to ramble, for the measured guitar and piano solos to further distinguish Like This from other, less substantial, records. This music is too good to play hit and run.
“There’s not enough room for all of my selves at one time.”
The album’s conclusion, “Arms Length,” paralyses the listener’s aesthetic sense. We’re seduced by the beauty of acoustic piano ballad and Mele’s final wish: “I need to hear you say that you like me.” Silence deafens the moment merely 90 seconds later. This music, with its pause and exploration, would have been the ultimate denouement in a very personal musical statement. Why not take a deep musical breath and let the musicians groove?
Like This shows that Michele Mele will make her singing truly great when she more deeply indulges her writing persona. Luckily, Mele can easily fix that by expanding on a promising wealth of vocal and instrumental ideas.
Track Listing: Like This; Emily
Personnel: Michele Mele, vocals; Debbie Flemning, background vocals; Reena Gayle, background vocals; Don
Breithaupt, piano, keyboards; Grant Slater, piano; Danny Colomby, guitar, bass, keyboards; Lew
Mele, bass; Tony Zorzi, guitar; John Mele, drums, percussion; John Johnson, alto saxophone; Perry
White, baritone saxophone; John Johnson, saxophone; Vern Dorge, saxophone; Terry Promane,
trombone; Gord Meyers, trombone; Terry Promane, trombone; Bill McBirnie, flute; Guido Basso,
trumpet, flugel horn, harmonica;Tony Carlucci, flugel horn.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.