October 2007

Michele Mele – Naked on the Rocks
October 16, 2007 The Revival Lounge Toronto
A Dynamic One-Woman Show
by Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
Composer, musician, vocalist and entertainer Michele Mele has recently fashioned some of her marvelous jazz-infused and wit-adorned songs into a delightful one-woman show, suggestively titled Naked on the Rocks. After several sold-out performances in the GTA, she recently brought her show to Toronto’s Revival Lounge — perhaps not the optimum venue for such a personal performance. Michele and company warmed up the physical environment of the cavernous, de-sanctified house of worship in no time, and after they emerged from their coma, the enthusiastic packed house added the necessary intimacy.

Punctuated by relaxed chat and hilarious as well as moving reminiscences, Naked on the Rocks is comprised of some of Michele’s freshest, most musical and deliciously eclectic compositions yet. She was joined onstage in her new venture by a phenomenally talented and versatile ensemble: Bernie Senensky on keyboards, brothers John Mele on drums and Lew Mele on bass, and a very soulful Lou Bartolomucci on guitar. All members of the band are frequent collaborators of Michele’s and appeared on her three excellent jazz CDs. This group is tight as a tick and can handle anything that Michele throws at them, which encompasses a plethora of inspired original material from the far-flung worlds of blues, rock, ambient/free music, bossa nova, disco, country and even a four-handed classical piano duet (with Senensky) from the works of highbrow 18th Century composer, George Frederick Handel!

The show began with Michele sitting down at the piano. Illuminated by a mere pin spot, she began to play a free, George Winston-ish composition entitled “Living in the Music”. Michele holds degrees from both the University of Toronto Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Education. She is a classically trained musician with piano chops to spare. To my knowledge, Michele has not previously performed on piano at her own gigs … so it was doubly delightful to see her playing with the kind of agility and confidence that can only come from experience and a deeply centered love of music. At a certain point, Senensky seamlessly assumed the piano chair, while Michele took her position at center stage, and now joined by the whole band, wrapped her sweet voice around her first vocal number, entitled “Free”.

For the duration of the show (a swiftly moving two hours with a brief intermission), Michele touched on subjects and experiences close to her heart, often calling upon reference points that are especially meaningful to 'Baby Boomers' — such as hip references to The Dick Van Dyke Show, and other cultural touch points. A good portion of her recent compositions revolve around the joys, tears and foibles of being a wife, mother and artist — sort of like an Irma Bombeck of jazz. Her warmth, wit and humour are part and parcel of her jazz-infused compositional and extemporaneous style, as well as her refusal to be categorized (which evidently throws off those responsible for airplay on our jazz stations). Her mellifluous, organza-like voice has often been described by critics as reminiscent of Peggy Lee or Michael Franks... but in this performance she also let fly with a new-found vocal power, perfect for rendering the more rock-inspired material.

Highlights of Naked on the Rocks include “Youngin”, a hilarious blues and true-to-life account of a handsome twenty-something jazz student optimistically trying to (unsuccessfully) seduce Michele at a recent I.A.J.E. Conference in New York City; “Out of Control”, a discourse on the comparative value of therapy set in a blistering rock and roll milieu (with some exceptional, Steve Lukather-like face-melting guitar solos by Lou Bartolomucci); an ode to chocolate (complete with bars of the divine substance being passed out to the audience by two of Michele’s lovely daughters) and the title song, “Naked on the Rocks”, which extols both the physical and spiritual beauty of an early morning skinny-dip with the loons at her terrifyingly rustic family cottage.

Michele Mele
Other treats included a loose tribute to Canadian country music legend, Stompin’ Tom Connors (“Canadian Man”) and the rousing “Rockin’ Jazz Ass”, which explores the eclecticism that surrounds much of Michele’s creative output. Near the close of the second act, Michele and Bernie Senensky embarked upon the aforementioned challenging four-handed piano piece, “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by Handel… the inclusion of which propelled the audience into a state of both surprise and delight.

In the content of this review, I’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention Michele’s stunning wardrobe. This was no cabaret-like fit of bugle beads (thank God), but highly personal and contemporary ensembles that were a treat for the eye, and yet still uniquely her. Provocative, and still somehow elegant, Ms. Mele’s costumes were laden with tons of appeal for both sexes, and were fabricated with a symphony of colour and textures — as is her music.

By parenthesizing her original compositions within the format of a stage performance, Michele Mele has discovered the optimum forum for her unique talent. The next time that Naked on the Rocks or any of her future shows are scheduled, run — don’t walk – to experience this rare and exceptional artist… but be sure to bring along your open heart, thirsty ear and a willingness to join Michele on her magical journey of spirit and song.

Michele will be repeating the show Naked on the Rocks on Thursday January 10th 2008 at 8.00 p.m. at the Revival Lounge, (783 College St. W. at Shaw) one last time before taking it on tour. Tickets are $20 at Ticketweb.ca or at the door.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
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