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Melanie Bong (www.melainebong.de), a German singer specializing in the music of Brazil, performed five nights in a row with five different programs at the Jazz Club Unterfahrt (www.unterfahrt.de) in Munich. The first two nights were involved with the premiere of her new CD entitled Fantásia and the other three involved an examination of what might be termed “The Great Brazilian Songbook” with separate nights devoted to the music of Ivan Lins, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joyce. It is always a daunting task to sing in a language other than one’s native tongue and doubly so when performing the music of Joyce, who is not only a brilliant composer but also a gifted performer and interpreter of her own songs. Happily, Bong and her all-Brazilian supporting cast were more than up to the job. You know a concert is going to be good when it starts with a singer stepping up to the microphone and performing flawlessly Joyce’s up-tempo tongue-twister “Feminina.” Bong has a husky voice, lower in range than Joyce’s and somewhat weak in the higher register (which sometimes causes intonation problems), but she more than makes up for this deficiency by perfect enunciation and a great sense of rhythm. She followed this with sensitive and emotional renderings of “Mistérios,” “The Color of Love” and “Essa Mulher.” Her interpretation of “Essa Mulher” was particularly moving and one has to admire the singer’s willingness to tackle a song that was a signature piece for the legendary Elis Regina. Indeed, there is a certain Regina-like quality to Bong’s voice, not so much in its emotional intensity, but in the fact that its weaknesses (such as in the upper register) do not detract from her performance, but somehow give it greater authenticity. This is a rare quality among singers. Elis Regina had it; Billie Holliday had it; Carmen McRae had it; and now Melanie Bong has it.
Bong’s band consisted of three musicians: Fernando Correa and Pedro Tagliani on guitars and Marcio Tubino on soprano and tenor saxophones and flute. All three musicians are outstanding and created solos that were real tours de force. It only takes one Brazilian to make up a rhythm section, and with two Brazilian guitarists on hand there was so much rhythmic pulsation drums and bass would have been superfluous. Tubino is a gifted performer on sax and flute and his tenor playing leans toward the Stan Getz “cool” side.
The audience was attentive and appreciative, although it is always disconcerting to watch a German audience listening to jazz or Latin music because all the samba schools in Rio couldn’t get a German to tap his toes. In Brazil (or America) the people would have been dancing in the aisles. Melanie Bong is a very good singer who is deserving of wider recognition. She is one German who knows how to tap her toes and can get others to do likewise.