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Melanie De Biasio makes her London debut with a show at the Purcell Room (Southbank Centre) to celebrate the release of her album ‘No Deal’ (out on April 27th on PIAS).

Melanie De Biasio is a graduate of the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles and already an acclaimed artist in her home country of Belgium and in the neighbouring Francophone nation to the south.
Initially heralded as a new voice in jazz, albeit jazz “d’autres univers”, other-worldly, so to speak, her first album “A Stomach Is Burning” was closer to the smoky, smouldering sound you dream of stumbling upon in a jazz cellar. Preferably in Paris or New York in, let’s say, 1959.

“No Deal”, her sophomore album, appears almost monochromatically minimalist at first,  A simple cover shot. Melanie has cut her hair. Miles Davis “A  Kind Of Blue” typography. Seven songs, through which her own voice drifts gracefully, at times disappearing altogether. Like a tintype photograph, this record needs time to develop, for the details to become clear, as if by magic. Apparently “No Deal” comes in at 33 and a third minutes, which could be mistaken for a nod to the golden age of the jazz LP. And yet its brevity (or succinctness) is genuinely hard to believe. It reverberates, echoes resonates. Throw a stone into the lake and the concentric ripples seem to go on for ever.

She has been called the Belgian Billie Holiday and, to be fair, there is something delicately haunting about her voice. Something in her delivery which compels you to listen, a different timbre to Abbey Lincoln but a similarly entrancing fascination. If the “No Deal” LP does have an immediate relative in jazz, then perhaps it is Nina Simone’s debut “Little Girl Blue”, also known as “Jazz As Played In An Exclusive Side Street Club”. On both, instrumental tracks nestle between the vocal ones. Nina plays the piano. Melanie plays the flute.  There’s Nina on the cover of “Little Girl Blue” on a Central Park bench looking like there’s definitely some other place she’d rather be.

Melanie’s new horizon appeared to her in Portland, Maine. A poet friend of hers invited her over with a wonderfully conceived ulterior motive, creating an event in which she was to sing – in the shadows, almost – her own songs, but to accompany a dance performance, spoken word, painting, a proper “happening”. It opened up a new perspective on her music, how to break the traditional relationship of singer, band and audience.

So “No Deal” draws you in, a stealth operation masquerading as a jazz album (which we have decided it isn’t), directed by an elegant chanteuse (which she most definitely is). The album, she explains, is just one version of the songs, the formations in her live vary in number and composition. In all this, the voice is important, but, she maintains, in the bigger picture, it becomes less about the voice. Perhaps playing the flute gives Melanie a certain distance in this regard, but conversely, when she does sing, we listen all the more intently.

Tickets £12.50 from the Southbank Centre

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A Southbank Centre presentation.