Since she released her debut album back in 2007 Belgian singer and flautist Melanie De Biasio has been spoken of predominantly in a jazz music context but this show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was to prove that there is a lot more to her music.
The show draws primarily from her last album, 2017’s Lilies, very much confirming it to be her finest work to date, a collection of alluring songs with just the right level of mystery and intrigue. Tonight she plays with a band and casts a magnetic presence over the audience throughout. She begins with Let Me Love You and Brother, both introducing her tightly managed sound. Her vocal style may possess shades of the likes of Nina Simone and Madeleine Peyroux but the understated arrangements and subtle embellishments are equally important in establishing her broader sound. Brother in particular unfurls slowly and deliberately, with the opening moments almost sounding like post-rock outfits like Labradford.
There’s a secretive, almost illicit quality to the songs and they build slowly and powerfully. Gold Junkies sees a relative quickening of the pace with her whispered, intense vocal layered on top. She plays Lilies and mixes in lines from Blackened Cities and Sitting In A Stairwell at the beginning, subtly drawing listeners into her world. The sombre beauty of Afro Blue elicits extended applause from the crowd and it’s followed by All My Worlds, which starts with a low organ drone before De Biasio’s vocals take over.
At times it’s like watching a battle between privacy and self-expression take place on the stage. There are strong emotions to be conveyed but they are imparted in shrouded, clandestine fashion. For all the emotion there is also a cold, calculated precision to a lot of tonight’s set which is particularly in evidence during Your Freedom Is The End Of Me. She’s a deeply convincing performer – as she sings lines like “I’m on the floor, come rescue me” you believe her every word. The song strays into darker and more abstract musical territory as it proceeds and the finger clicks she employs throughout add a sharpness and leanness to the spectacle.
And My Heart Goes On is unremittingly sad, containing such revealing lines as “I am suffering my resistance, at your insistence, my skin hard and pointless” but it is strangely offset by her graceful, ballet-like movement around the stage. She dips into second album No Deal late in the set for The Flow and the barely-there title track. She finishes with a cover of I’m Going To Leave You by Nina Simone which confirms how she has a very clearly defined, well realised musical style but one that also very much deserves to be heard outside of limiting terminology.