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Melissa Morgan Quartet at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society

Bill Leikam By

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Melissa Morgan Quartet
Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society
Half Moon Bay, Ca.
May 11, 2014

As is often customary, vocalist Melissa Morgan did not immediately appear on stage while her trio of Los Angeles based musicians, pianist Sam Hirsh,bassist Katie Thiroux, and Matt Witek on drums, opened the show with an old standard, "Satin Doll." It was the first time these musicians played the Bach. To a person, they were thrilled at the opportunity to join a long list of legendary performers who have graced the stage at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. The quartet played to a nearly full house. For many in the audience this was their first time hearing Morgan, who is coming on strong behind her fine vocal attributes.

Morgan wore a striking, tight yellow, red, blue and white embroidered dress, but what illuminates her presence most, both onstage and off, are her alluring eyes. She captured the audience immediately, bringing along light, situational humor in addition to her wonderful voice. She joked at the the very beginning during an initial bit of feedback, and the laughter that followed lightened up the atmosphere in the room.

As for her style, many writers compare her with great singers of the past. Her vocal brew sounds something like this: Take a smidgen of Betty Carter, a pinch of Pearl Bailey, then every- so-often sprinkle in some Billie Holiday. These give an edgy, added flavor but what makes Morgan truly unique is her own voice, so good she inspires happiness. By tonight's second song, the audience had already been seduced.

With that, she really dug in. She enunciates her words with crystal clarity and can also come on with that sultry, breathy feel, followed by a light dose of vibrato. Morgan has mastered the use of the microphone. When she belted out a phrase the mic was at her lips. When she was laid back and sultry, the mic was exactly where it needed to be to pick up the lyrics and send those words clearly to the audience. In short, she knows how to effectively use the mic to make the most of her voice.

Before "The Very Thought of You," she said, "This is my mother's favorite ballad." The audience applauded, with her all the way. She came on strong then eased down into several mellow, tender bars until building once again for emphasis. Master drummer Witek tucked in just behind the rest of the band, but not so much so that he was lost to the others. He was certainly present on the cymbals and traps, keeping impeccable time with the bass. Knowing exactly where to tuck the drums with the rest of the instruments is the mark of a great jazz drummer.

In "All I Do Is Dream of You" Morgan's delicate vocals came from the depths of her soul. As the tune picked up pace it contrasted with the first half. Here, Thiroux's bass came to the fore in a wonderful solo, the best of the day. Rounding it out, Hirsch laid down some piano notes that scooped up not only the drums and the bass, but also Morgan's voice. Hirsch took a brief ride down to nearly the end of the piece.

To musically finish off the second set Morgan chose "You Let My Love Grow Cold," a high energy tune that Morgan "belted" out. At one point, looking over at Hirsch, she called, "Come on, come on Sam." Hirsch took off, his body animated, legs kicking beneath the house Steinway Grand Piano with a broad smile and his fingers flying over the keyboard. It was the highlight of the concert and appropriately so, punctuated by hearty applause and calls for an encore.

They returned to the stageand wrappeda colorful concert that ranged from the powerful to the delicate, the sensual and the gritty blues capped off with an encore. Morgan can sing so it doesn't feel for a moment that she's working at it. She is a joyful, expressive singer and her range is drawn from the depths of her soul.

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