Jazz Festivals WorldWide: Green River Sessions Album Review

Canadian voalist Hannah Burgé’s debut album Green River Sessions incorporates African, Brazilian and Indian vocal traditions with classical jazz influences to create a unique sound.

Genre classification simply will not pigeonhole the remarkable Canadian vocalist Hannah Burgé, as clearly demonstrated in her extraordinary debut album Green River Sessions on Music Village Records. Her Masters Degree in ethnomusicology is no mere academic qualification as her deep knowledge of World Music is woven into every track of the album, deeply intertwined with her personal musical vision. African, Brazilian and Indian vocal traditions are blended seamlessly into her vocal style, fully immersed in the classic jazz expression of Annie Ross, Eddie Jefferson, Kurt Elling and Diane Reeves – all beautifully projected through her lovely, emotive and compelling voice.

The music is fully integrated with these traditions, with the core trio – Robi Botos on acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 and Nord synthesizer; Mark Kelso on drums and percussion and Paco Luviano on acoustic and electric bass – impeccably mastering every aspect of the music. Far more than a supporting trio, they possess a consummate synergy that makes the quartet a band in the most explicit sense of the word, with each member vitally versed in all of the styles contained within the music. Despite the variety of influences contained here, this is no potpourri, but rather a vividly realized musical context, with a totally cohesive structure – all welded together under the enthralling expressiveness of Hannah Burgé.

The brilliant arrangements are all done by Hannah and Paco, either together or separately, and the overall concept of the album was forged in their profound partnership, with Paco serving as the band director and the album’s producer. His inspired bass playing provides the central nervous system of the music. Botos handles most of the soloing with exhilarating imagination, thoroughly within the spirit of the music, and his sensitivity and tastefulness in support are exemplary. Kelso is stunning, his flawless rhythms and riveting energy make the music crackle, yet splendidly subtle in his coloration and drive. Guest artists are also brought into the brew for ingeniously effective contributions, including the world renowned harmonica master Hendrik Muerkens on two tracks.

The repertoire is outstanding – four Burgé originals, a popular Venezuelan song, two versions of a megahit pop song, and a pair of fine renditions of a Songbook standard and a jazz classic.

The four originals – all arranged by Hannah – strikingly showcase her highly impressive songwriting talents. Forged from the broad scope of her World Music sensibilities, coupled with the inspiration drawn from the natural setting of Lake Simcoe and the forests of her hometown of Orillia, Ontario, expressing the majesty of nature through her music is a key part of her artistic quest. Performing with Cuban, African and Brazilian bands in Toronto has also directly influenced her writing.

Inspired by water and the music of Cuba, Art of Living opens the album in a radiant manner, structured on a traditional Yoruba song grouping with a dynamic call and response between her vocal and the coro (comprised of herself and guest artist Luisito Orbegoso). South Indian Carnatic music provides a core inspiration for I’m In, with shimmering descending and ascending patterns providing a delectable tension, all dramatically enhanced by glowing tenor sax coloring from Kelly Jefferson. Serenity, a paean to the forests of her childhood, is a filigreed ballad of exquisite beauty and delicacy – evocative, mesmerizing and touching – and sung with an artistry of enormous depth and spirit.

Sunshine Samba is a driving piece, with Hannah’s vocal languorously suspended over the butterfly dance of the rhythm section, ramping it up into bass-stoked, fire-breathing intensity under Meurkens sizzling solo and Hannah’s scat-ish vocal. Hendrik also lends his prodigious talents to a uniquely conceived take on the Nicholas Brodsky/Sammy Cahn standard Be My Love, with the Hannah/Paco arrangement transforming what is usually an operatic interpretation into an infectious samba. Meurkens lively solo and obbligato caressing Hannah’s sprightly vocal add to the joy of the piece.

Throughout the album, Paco’s luminous talents and the rich World Music experience that he has culled from years of playing with so many fine international artists add a special luster to the music. His arranging skills are showcased on a pair of pieces. The legendary Spanish born Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero’s De Repente is an exciting, driving piece spurred by bass and drums and features Botos soloing on Rhodes and synthesizer. Hannah’s buoyant Spanish-language vocal is a delight. The Horace Silver classic Nica’s Dream, evoking Coltrane’s Giant Steps in its intro, is a rollicking Latin-style smoker, richly syncopated and exuberant, with the burning rhythm section further stoked by the incandescent congas of Jalidan Ruiz. Hannah handles Horace’s delightful lyrics with a scintillating vocalese flair that would make Eddie Jefferson holler his approval.

Hannah aptly demonstrates her mastery of pop music with two cover versions (including a radio edit) of Canadian superstar Allanah Myles’ megahit Black Velvet (by Christopher Ward and David Tyson). This sensational arrangement by Hannah and Paco features Tony Zorzi on guitar, whose scorching, rock-ish solo is a highlight. Over a deeply grooving rhythm section of funky bass, cascading Rhodes, wah-wah guitar and fractured back-beat drums, Hannah soars and wails, with tastefully subtle overdubs, in a most captivating rendition of the popular song.

With a full-bodied and warm voice, Hannah’s sinuous lyricism coils around the melodies and chord structures, her alluring phrasing and sumptuous musicality painting intriguing pictures and offering fascinating tales. The delightful Green River Sessions contains just the first of many to come.

Hannah Burgé’s
“Green River Sessions”
CD Release
@ the Jazz Bistro
Toronto, Canada
Tuesday, October 6th 8:00 pm
Hannah Burgé (voice)
Robi Botos (piano)
Paco Luviano (bass)
Mark Kelso (drums)
Tony Zorzi (guitar)
Luisito Orbegoso (percussion)
+ special guest

 Remarkably all it takes is one hearing for Green River Sessions to make the strongest impression with its bright colouring. Repeated hearings bring out the strongest impression of Ms. Burgé’s voice in all its magnificence.

Written by: Raul da Gama
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