Thursday, July 26, 2018
For me, Brazilian jazz is one of those musical genres that has a rather narrow definition. There are very specific traits to the music, the rhythms and the way vocals are employed, that make something true Brazilian jazz or make it something else that's just sort of Brazilian. Sure, you can slyly add Brazilian influences to another type of music and make it a hybrid, but then it becomes something else...right? I'm asking because I'm not so sure anymore. I've listened to a lot of contemporary Brazilian jazz lately, and everyone is trying to bring something new to the game. In some cases, such as Antonio Adolfo, the result is a purer form of jazz that is merely informed by Brazilian traditions. But Melbreeze's new album, Animazonia, liberties are taken. Unusual elements are introduced that are like nothing I've heard from Brazil, and yet this is clearly an album of Brazilian music. It's as obvious as can be.
Melbreeze was born in Turkey, and she grew up with music that featured both Greek and Roman origins. She pursued ballet for a big chunk of her life, raised a family and then realized that her "love for music...never wavered and she dreamed that one day she could do they kind of music she wanted." Animazonia is a realization of those dreams. This is her ninth album, and she's already established a strong presence with her music and with her visual arts, usually combined as one, but this is the album where she "shares all her thoughts and feelings that she kept hidden inside for years."
This sounds like an ambitious project, and it is. Her approach is exotic, but not in the normal Brazilian way. Her versions of such Brazilian jazz standards as "Quiet Nights," "One Note Samba" and "Desafinado" are faithful at their core but embellished with unusual touches that circumvent the term "hybrid" and become something altogether new. She's not afraid to introduce other cultures into her arrangements, such as the steady tambla and sitar in "How Insensitive" or lush interludes enhanced by synthesizers and programming. Her voice is husky and filled with experience and maturity, a very different approach than someone like Astrud Gilberto would take. It's almost as if she's an old-fashioned torch singer who spent a few years in Rio and came back with a vision of blending the two worlds into one.
The answer is yes, this is still Brazilian jazz, but perhaps for a new generation of fans. Purists might balk at her adventurous choices, but there's plenty of excitement in the way she pins down those old traditions and fleshes them out with modern techniques. At times she brushes up against pop, but there's an inherent respect in every note that reminds me of Sade and how she assembled old ideas into something that sounded fresh. If I could, I would grab the nearest Brazilian and ask "Well, what do you think of this?" They might hem and haw a little bit, but I suspect they'd like Animazonia a lot, and that there's plenty of room for this kind of innovation in their world.