Entertainment » Music

Melanie Stace at Birdland

by Kevin Scott Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 24, 2014
The Birdland party featuring Melanie Stace
The Birdland party featuring Melanie Stace  (Source:www.birdlandjazz.com)

If there is any justice in the world, British triple-threat Melanie Stace, now living in Brooklyn and playing some of the best nightclub venues in New York, will soon be a household name stateside.

Stace, a television personality in London for several years, is also a dancer, actress and singer who has toured extensively around the world. Those skills lend themselves well to her headlining in clubs, especially those fabulous pipes, which can caress a torch song, growl out the blues and hold out a high note with the very best of divas. It certainly doesn't hurt that she is a stunner to look at and, with her dancer's know-how, can raise and arm and flick her fingers to put a signature button at the end of a showstopping tune.

On June 22, she brought her act to Birdland, surrounding herself with a quartet of marvelous musicians. Most of her material is standard fare from the Great American Songbook (Gershwins and Porter, for example), but when sung this well and with this much flair, it's always fresh. Her take on "Cry Me a River" (Hamilton), which is also featured on her debut CD, was direct and plaintive. She energized Harry Connick Jr's modern classic, "Recipe for Love," making it all her own. Stace knew when to turn on the gas and when to ease up.

When Stace strayed from the well-known classics, it was also a treat. "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," from the film "White Christmas," was her eleven o'clock torch number, and should definitely be a keeper in future shows. She also previewed a new, original number, "1942" (Byron Hill, Tony Hiller). As a performer, Stace clearly knows the era where she'd fit right in, which is not to say we can't appreciate her timeless talents right now.

Stace closed with "Birth of the Blues" (Henderson, DeSylva & Brown), a powerhouse performance that brought the crowd to its feet. Her lovely encore was, appropriately, "Every Time We Say Goodbye" (Porter), sung with just piano accompaniment.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that she is a stunner to look at and, with her dancer’s know-how, can raise and arm and flick her fingers to put a signature button at the end of a showstopping tune.

As a singer, Stace's strengths are her strong, fluid vocal instrument, crystal clear tone, and perfect diction. Although she can swing as well as put over a ballad with the best of them, her delivery is marked by direct communication. Like the best big band singers of yesteryear, she doesn't fuss with ornamental riffing or straying from the melody. For her, the message is key, and clarity trumps vocal gimmickry.

Stace has beautiful manners on stage, especially gracious and generous to her musicians and the behind-the-scenes team at Birdland. She is poised while speaking and has a welcoming demeanor. She also possesses good humor, although I'd like to see a bit more of her internal mischief come out.

Musicians included David Anthony on drums, Gianluca Renzi on bass, and Jason Marshall on saxophone. Her musical director on piano was the terrific Doug Oberhamer who, it turns out, was playing the entire show with a fractured elbow!

Later this year, Stace plans to release a new CD, "The Key to Me," in which she has co-written all the songs with Wayne Brown. It sounds like she's branching out in yet another direction. Songwriter Melanie Stace? She just became a quadruple threat.

"Melanie Stace played on June 22 at Birdland, 315 West 44th St. in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-581-3080 or visit http://birdlandjazz.com/

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).


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