The biggest name on Hannah Burgé’s new upcoming album is harmonica wizard Hendrik Meurkens. His overseas touch can be heard, and felt, throughout Burgé’s Green River Sessions (Music Village Records) — even if he’s only on two songs, a Sammy Cahn cover of “Be My Love” and the Canadian vocalist’s own “Sunshine Samba.”
But Meurkens won’t be the only big name after people give this debut album a good, long listen. Burgé’s voice and her lyrical memory are hard to define, but easy to love — in and out of English.
It’s easy to love Burgé’s soft jazz world, tempered with the swaying, beachy vibe of Brazilian music and her gently intonated piano vocals. On much of the material — nine songs, five covers, four written well by Burgé — the music flows, like waves to the shore, or “wind through the trees, rain on the leaves [‘Serenity’].”
The self-produced Green River Sessions comes out on October 2, 2015, and doesn’t just feature guest star Meurkens, but a host of other solid and original-sounding musicians who lend their own scope to the cast of lightly falling moods. They include Robi Botos (keys, B3), Paco Luviano (bass, vocals), Tony Zorzi (guitar), Kelly Jefferson (sax), Jalidan Ruiz (congas), and Mark Kelso (percussion).
Burgé and album producer Luviano are responsible for the arrangements which flow over into not just Brazilian music, but Cuban Yoruba (“Art Of Living” with vocalist Luisito Orbegoso), African rhythms, South Indian Carnatic-inspired vocals (“I’m In”), even a totally different take on Alannah Myles’ 1989 pop hit, “Black Velvet.”
Hannah Burgé comes to the table steeped in world music appreciation, from her Masters in ethnomusicology to her experience gigging with African, Brazilian, and Cuban bands throughout Toronto. All of this informs her vocal performance and songwriting.
There are moments when Burgé’s voice doesn’t hold onto the lingering notes all the way through (“I’m In”) as they’re supposed to strengthen toward the finish. But she makes up for that with a strong sense of musicality in the breadth of her melodic notes and in the sharing of those notes left up to fluid, floral interpretation by the musicians on board.
Her lyrics are so embedded in the music that the listener is hard-pressed to single any of them out for further examination. “Let’s put aside things that hurt us” would sound jumbled, clumsy, a mouthful in the hands of a lesser songwriter and vocalist, and one not gifted with a band such as this, a band that knows what to do to usher the words forward in a heavenly instrumental stream.
Otherwise, Burgé shines in the surprisingly fluid Brazilian pieces — without breaking down in the translation — as well as that one serious ballad, “Serenity,” she wrote in honor of her forested childhood.
On “Serenity,” all that matters is the sweeping soundtrack of her voice. Curiously, her voice sweeps aside the specifics of the lyrics themselves, as the music carries sweeping sentiment home. It’s the music in the piano and the softness of her voice the listener hones in on — with the heart — rather than what the individual stanzas must mean, or whether they effectively carry the message.
Yet, the lyrics don’t get in the way of the music; they’re light and airy enough to slip into the poetry the musicians and Burgé set in play. She sings of the wind, the rain, the leaves, reminders of home, giving hints without laying everything out, without getting too heavy, letting the ethereal quality of her voice — the often-overlooked human instrument, and the shadow of pianist Botos take care of the rest.
Myles’ pop-rock song, “Black Velvet,” is very distinctive. Burgé incorporates guitar, Rhodes, bass, drums, and a good effort on vocals for a bouncy adult contemporary number, with a hint of country soul. Again, she strains to the breaking point at times on this cover, but smooths over the phrasing by sticking to the more comfortable, higher plane.
If she can lay off the low notes, or learn to power through them, Hannah Burgé could really be the next jazz sensation.
Written by: Carol Banks Weber
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