Melody Gardot: sultry enchantress

Melody Gardot

Dressed all in black, with her customary dark sunglasses, Melody Gardot ravished a sold-out Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at the FIJM last night. Slow, sultry, soulful, smoky, and sensual, Gardot enchanted festival-goers with her quasi-retro musical visions and charming on-stage persona.

Gardot was accompanied by a small string orchestra, comprised of local Montreal musicians, as well as solo cello, solo double-bass, solo guitar and drums. One of the strengths of the show was that she left a lot of space for the musicians—they weren’t so much back up as equal partners in the performance, and they were all fantastic.

She opened the night with Wayfaring Stranger. The beautiful arrangement heavily emphasized the strings; harmonies were subtly dissonant, the tempo was slow, the mood understated, and the effect completely captivating. From there she went into a much freer, more experimental style for her second song, and throughout the evening ran the gamut from burlesque to blues to Brel, from bossa to ballad.

The highlight for me was Morning Sun, which was essentially one long intense crescendo of feeling, mood, and sound, an anthem of hope, a prayer. It brought to mind Nina Simone’s cover of Here Comes the Sun: a statement of faith and belief in the darkest times that things can get better.

A native of Philadelphia, Gardot started music lessons as a kid, and learned to sing and play guitar while spending a year in bed recovering from a serious bike accident when she was 18. Sensitive to sound and light (thus the dark glasses), her arrangements tend to the mellow side of the jazz spectrum, but are no less intense and enveloping than her more upbeat contemporaries. A comparison can be made with Norah Jones, who played the same stage on the 27th, and was equally laid-back and evocative, yet intense. Both women are adept on piano and guitar, both have stunningly gorgeous voices, and both are engaged in a profound exploration of musical sensuality, each in her own way.

But where Jones kept audience interaction and talking to a bare minimum, Gardot brought the audience into the show more and more as the night went on, repeatedly expressing her gratitude and warmth to the welcoming Montreal crowd, joking about the air conditioning and needing a glass of wine, and recounting personal anecdotes. During her last song she got the audience participating in a call and response game, and then slowly left the stage while still having us sing back to her even when she had disappeared. It was almost like she was transferring her creative energy to her fans. Luckily for us, she came back for two encores, much to the audience’s delight.

Melody Gardot played Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier June 29 and 30.

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