sun 29/05/2022

Melanie De Biasio, Purcell Room | reviews, news & interviews

Melanie De Biasio, Purcell Room

Melanie De Biasio, Purcell Room

Startling British headline debut from Belgium’s jazz auteur

Melanie De Biasio: the real deal

It’s statement of intent to open your first British headlining show with a 15-minute version of an album track which lasts a minute and three-quarters – from an album which itself lasts barely more than 30 minutes. And then to riff on it, incorporating elements from a debut album which barely anyone beyond your native country has heard.

In taking her current album No Deal’s “I Feel You” and merging it with A Stomach Is Burning’s “A Stomach”, Belgium’s Melanie De Biasio could have alienated an audience who had never seen her before. Instead, the sold-out Purcell Room gave her standing ovation.

No Deal is how she’s become known outside Belgium and, also, largely the reason for recognition within her home country too. Although nominally jazz – she has covered Nina Simone and a notice outside the Purcell Room quoted her being lauded as “the Belgian Billie Holiday” – De Biasio is wonderfully difficult to get a handle on. Her show conjured images of a de-rockified “Riders on the Storm” Doors, Herbie Mann, the eeriness of Angelo Badalamenti’s music for David Lynch, a Peggy Lee rendered in smoky grey and the sealed-basement ambience of third album Velvet Underground. All of which were combined seamlessly.

There’s a sense that no one performance could be like another

In the hour she was on stage, De Biasio performed six songs – one of which fused two from No Deal. In black, she stood on the dimly lit stage side-on to the audience and barely spoke. Incredibly mannered and rigorous, she was also organic, passionate and instantly the focus.

Her music is sparsely arranged: the symbiosis with the accompanying musicians was complete. There’s a sense that no one performance could be like another. When she picked up her flute, the music took on a dense, foggy quality which transported like the best psychedelia. Pianist Pascal Mohy was more about the shimmer between the notes, while Pascal Paulus on clavinet and synth coloured the air with subtle washes of sound. But drummer Dre Pallemaerts was De Biasio’s foil – the heart to her soul. Intensified by meticulous lighting, this impactful concert was a bolt from the blue. De Biasio is a fully formed star.

Although Belgian, there is nothing geographically specific about her. Indeed, summoning up Belgians who have made waves internationally in pop beyond Jacques Brel, punk buffoon Plastic Bertrand, electro oddities Telex and techno-dance outfit 2 Unlimited is tough. Belgium did though embrace the chillier end of post punk, which chimes with De Biasio’s music.

Between her two albums came an overhaul which catapulted De Biasio into the mainstream eye

It wasn’t always the case. The De Biasio of No Deal is very different to that of 2007 when her debut album A Stomach Is Burning was issued, even though Mohy and Paulus accompany her on both albums. Then, the music was more traditionally jazz, had fussier arrangements and was less about both the voice and the songs. De Biasio herself was also busier on stage, moving more. She wasn’t today’s becalmed presence. The Parisian, Left Bank, Jean Seberg-esque hair she sports now was adopted to support her new, measured, minimal persona.

Between the two albums came an overhaul which catapulted De Biasio into the mainstream eye. Previously known only to a jazz audience, she was now ready for wider recognition. In its glowing, five-star review of No Deal last March, the national Belgian newspaper De Morgen’s writer admitted he had not heard of her before. He wasn’t alone. Yet soon after that, she charted.

This shift is not about the change in image. A recalibration, it took what was already there, reassessed it and foregrounded what was most striking. Equally, De Biasio is not about the style. As last night proved, this is about when mood, music, presence and voice are unified. No deal? De Biasio is the real deal.

Overleaf: watch videos to compare today's Melanie De Biasio with that of 2007 and her first album A Stomach is Burning

 

Watch the video for “The Flow” from Melanie De Biasio’s No Deal

Watch the A Stomach is Burning-period Melanie De Biasio from 2007


When De Biasio picked up her flute, the music took on a foggy quality which transported like the best psychedelia

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Comments

Good review. Melanie Di Biassio gave us an original, intensely atmospheric experience, and the lighting director read the script perfectly, all subdued hues and minimal reveals.

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