Thursday, July 19, 2007

Melanie De Biasio - a stomach is burning

Melanie De Biasio - voc (website | myspace)
Pascal Mohy - p
Pascal Paulus - wurlizter, hammond, clavinet
Axel Gilain - b
Teun Verbruggen - d
Steve Houben - as, fl

Melanie Di Biasio's voice is infused with a dark, caramel warmth that is at its best when given time to ooze out slow and quiet. Occasionally clumsy lyric-writing and diction (De Biasio sings mostly her own English-language songs) is rendered irrelevant through timbre and lingering phrasing. Although a sprinkling of more melodic and sprightlier songs enliven the album, it's when the tempo crawls and forms are distended that the singer can generate her most powerfully absorbing atmospheres, as she does on the title track.

Her high-pedigree lineage (Billie Holiday/Nina Simone/Erykah Badu) places the singer at the centre of the songs, rather than as a mere bookend to instrumental solos. Swathes of well-chosen keyboards, cymbals washes, discreet guitar, rumbling drums, double bass ostinati and occasional backing vocal chants deepen the mood. This thick middle ground provides an apposite texture: luxuriant and enveloping, without a hint of sappiness.

The instrumental solos are sucked into De Biasio's orbit, emerging naturally from the singer's silences and keeping her sense of enchanting understatement, either in thickly interwoven tapestry of brief interjections or in brief, quietly dramatic statements. And sometimes, solos don't even need to emerge: on "My Man's Gone Now," a full-bodied lament emerges from shell-shocked realisation, and the slow swinging 12/8 is given the space for the news sink in. Even when she's not singing, De Biasio is all over the record.

a stomach is burning is a refreshing, unified debut that is low in volume but high in seductive impact. It's not like there have been any notable Belgian jazz singers since David Linx, but De Biasio may be the one to fill that big gap.