A Disarmingly Direct, Evocative, Intimate New Album From Jazz Stylist Melissa Stylianou
Singer Melissa Stylianou may be best known as a member of the irrepressible trio Duchess, who with her bandmates Amy Cervini and Hilary Gardner just won the Jazz Journalists of America’s award for best vocal group of the year. This blog has found some of those writers’ picks to be on the timid side over the years, but not this one: the three women earned it.
Stylianou is also a solo artist, and has a fascinatingly intimate new trio album, Dream Dancing, streaming at Bandcamp.This is one of the glut of records which were recorded in 2019 and on track for a 2020 release but shelved when the arts were crushed in the 2020 global takeover. What’s extraordinary is that it features ageless guitarist Gene Bertoncini at the top of his game on a nylon-string model. For one, there isn’t a lot of acoustic guitar jazz, and there also aren’t many octogenarians with the effortless fluidity and gravitas that Bertoncini brings out here. Stylianou’s characteristically eclectic approach results in a lot of freshness to this collection of standards.
She opens the album, way up toward the top of her expressive range with Sweet and Lovely, Bertoncini ranging from spare, spiky clusters, sinuous bends and the occasional chordal flurry as bassist Ike Sturm holds down a spring-loaded swing.
She brings equal parts uncluttered directness and mist to If You Never Come to Me against a backdrop of balanced Bertoncini downstrokes along with spare leads and subtle harmonies from Sturm. That directness packs an understated punch in Stylianou’s understatedly angst-fueled delivery, hope against hope, in My Ideal.
She ranges from wryness to cheery determination in It Could Happen to You, a duo with Sturm setting a chugging pace across the range of the bass. She vocalises over Bertoncini’s thoughtfully expansive chords and methodical arpeggios in For Chet, a Chet Baker homage. Stylianou finds herself centered amidst a more bustling swing in Perdido and switches to lilting Portuguese for a lilting take of Corcovado.
Stylianou and Sturm return to a jaunty bass-and-vocal duo for the blues Time’s A-Wastin’. She and Bertoncini explore a more rubato, expressive approach in My One and Only Love and close the record with a version of It Might As Well Be Spring, coalescing from an acerbic, enigmatic intro to a triumphant but harmonically bracing swing.
Stylianou’s next New York gig is the album release show at Mezzrow on Aug 7 at 7:30 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door.