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Music Review: Melissa Morgan – Until I Met You

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Jazz vocalists tend to tread a thin line. Because of the technical demands, rigorous vocal training is virtually a necessity. Yet compelling delivery – truly capturing and captivating an audience – requires a willingness to forgo technique in favor of emotional expression. It’s all about communication …

Melissa Morgan, raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, has an extensive musical education, beginning with piano lessons at the age of four and continuing with ongoing training in classical and opera. So she’s got chops to spare, her voice a richly expressive instrument with exquisite control. But along the way Melissa discovered jazz (via her grandmother’s record collection, featuring the likes of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington), and soon developed an affinity for its spontaneity and its soul.

Until I Met You, her debut on the prestigious Telarc label, shows how well she’s learned her lessons. Her idols were more than mere vocalists – they were icons, their individuality stamped on every note. And while Morgan’s delivery is virtually flawless, she too claims a song as her own, bringing a relaxed and thoroughly charming personality to proceedings. All the standard ‘s’ words apply – sassy, sultry, and yes, sexy – but Morgan adds an irresistibly warm, whispered intimacy that’s all her own.

Material is primarily playful, with selections including “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” the bouncy “A Sleepin’ Bee,” a swinging “Cool Cool Daddy,” and the Latin-tinged “Yes, I’ll Know When I’ve Had It.” “Save Your Love For Me” is treated like a romantic promise rather than a heartbroken plea, and “The Lamp Is Low” is boppish and bright. Both “I Wonder” and “The More I See You” are given bump ‘n’ grind’ bluesy treatments, but Morgan’s sensual delivery remains mischievously innocent.

The band is in excellent form, with pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer Kevin Kannar augmented on a handful by guitarist Randy Napoleon. Co-producer Christian Scott adds trumpet and directs a subtle horn section of a few tracks.

Morgan may lack the world-weary wisdom her influences were able to impart to darker fare, but there’s a beguiling candor to her delivery. Technically adept enough to handle challenges with ease, she’s able to relax and allow her personality to shine through. It’s the difference between listening to a performance and listening to a person – in this case, a person with an extraordinary voice and an innate sense of swing. The results are absolutely delightful!

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