Mix two parts jazz, one part folk, and a heaping spoonful of elegant soul, and the product is vocalist Melissa Stylianou’s newest release Silent Movie. Whether played on a stereo or brought to life at the Jazz Standard, Stylianou’s sound glides, swirls, and pensively tilt-a-whirls into her band’s intricate momentum, until both vocals and instrumentals unite in ear-hugging harmony. That harmony spans a spectrum of moods over the album’s journey, resonating with graceful tenderness every step of the way.
It’s only fitting that the first step on Silent Movie’s path is carved by the king of silent films himself – Charlie Chaplin. Stylianou captures the Chaplin classic “Smile” through a wistful lens, ribboning though Rodney Green’s misty drums (drummer Mark Ferber played in concert) and Gary Wang’s heavy-hearted bass. This melancholy turned haunting on stage as Stylianou pitched lower while percussionist James Shipp climbed higher, piercing the air with vibraphone spears and eerie chimes.
“Silent Movie” wears a similar shroud of clouded reflection around its shoulders, though lilted toward the sweeter side of bittersweetness by Pete McCann’s warm guitar. Stylianou’s darker-edged vocals also veer toward rosy horizons, coasting alongside Jamie Reynolds’ nostalgic piano. The innate dynamic between the two is no surprise; the wife-husband pair wrote the piece together as a means of marital catharsis. Stylianou notes: “We were both going through therapy at the time […] It was difficult but fruitful. Writing that song paved the way ahead for us, musically and as a couple.”
Stylianou’s take on Paul Simon’s “Hearts and Bones” reveals the folky side of her vocal repertoire. The band, too, spins its silky jazz ambience into an earthy medley of beats and sounds. The rustic switch doesn’t fully come across on the recorded track, but in person, it was unmistakable. Ferber switched from drumsticks to bare hands, echoing a tribal feel accented by Shipp’s triangle and Wang’s quietly groundbreaking bass. Anat Cohen emerged as brassy innovator, rising to her feet to belt out unbridled soprano sax slur after the other.
Melissa Stylianou, however, was the pioneering force behind the evening and the album, her voice flowing and retreating like humble thunder. In “Hearts and Bones” and beyond, Stylianou illustrates scenes of love, loss, heartache, and hope in a chic modern light that shines long after Silent Movie is through.