Album: Birds of Paradise by Melissa Jones

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Melissa Jones’s latest and first studio release is a smorgasbord of delicious RnB and neo-soul that comes lush with twirling gospel choirs, sensational -and genre-appropriate- bass playing, and rich arrangements, highlighted by Jones’s vocals that effortlessly stand out with their soulful sensibilities and nuanced deliveries.

From the world capital of  jazz, the Brooklyn-based Melissa Jones is a singer and songwriter whose style comes across on her debut as an exceptional fusion of complex jazz, neo-soul, funk, and RnB. Titled Birds of Paradise, Jones’s debut is a healthy collection of intricate tunes that go all the way from the experimental noise fests to the lilting and graceful soul stunners. Bound together by the steady fist that is Jones’s consistently quirky vocal performances, and by the warm and roomy production courtesy of Errick Lewis, the album is a coherent set of 8 tracks that are all equally enriching, but not at all equally accessible.

The album’s first half is decidedly denser than its second one. From the shorter album introduction ‘Make it last’, a song that features a bombastic drum and bass performance, with a tight and snappy snare that perfectly compliments the bass’s ocean deep tone, to an intense one-two move of nuanced soul-jazz cuts that will be testing to the uninitiated. Starting with ‘Without You’, the first of the album’s truly stellar bass performances, the harmonically shifting song is a dazzling display of musicality from Jones and her co-performers. Grateful words, acidic composition, an avant-garde choir section that has a mind of its own, creating interesting, intertwining, and challenging textures, the testing song is lush and rewarding. After listening to ‘Mood Booster’, on the album’s leading singles, it becomes clear that ‘Without You’ was just a test run. The song’s memorable descending melody introduces dissonance on top of a brooding, stomping rhythm section, as Jones’s hypnotic melodies waft the song along. One of the album’s longer tunes, the piece progresses to feature experimental vocal layering as the whole arrangement artfully melts into a creamy later section that takes out harmony and melody in favor of lushness and textures.

The album’s later half is a rewarding -and remarkable- display of musical, accessible, tasteful, and colorful acid jazz and soul. From the three consecutive cuts of ‘Take a chance on me’, ‘Right by me’, and ‘I don’t mind’, each with its own addition to the sound of the record, the songs feature outstanding texturing, words, arranging, and are captivating displays of one the album’s stronger winning cards, the bass playing. ‘Take a chance on me’ is Jones’s take on the Broadway jazz sound, mirroring one of her stronger influences, Erykah Badu. Romantic, seductive, and rhythmic, the cut’s heavy swinging feel induces a gravitas that makes the song pulling. ‘Right by me’ is a rhythm marvel. With its shaker/percussion-based groove that’s fragmented and held together by one of the album’s best bass performances, the song features an unforgettable mood shift at its halfway point that took me completely by surprise. The silken smooth bass and pads of ‘I don’t mind’ lean on to the acid part of acid jazz. The song’s jazzy composition and fretless bass performance make it one of the album’s creamiest and most seductive tracks, definitely a favorite of mine. Those bass fills should be outlawed.

Conceived in a time of hardship, Flowers of Paradise honors Jones’s late mother, whose favorite flowers were the colorful and fierce namesake of the album. Melissa Jones pulls off something truly outstanding from the depths of loss, ending up with a selection of healthy songs that are rich with music, soul, feeling, intention, color, and purpose. A truly wonderful album of passion-filled sounds.