Decca | spotify.com
· · ·
The first bite, they say, is taken with the eye. What a horrifying, anatomically improbable turn of phrase. Sampling a new dish means allowing appropriate time for it to digest, time for its intricacies to unfold and for its nutrition to make itself known. Still, the importance of the first impression must not be underestimated, retina dentata notwithstanding.
Of course, a memorable album cover is one translation of this concept from the culinary to the auditory. Who could forget when St. Vincent seared her latest into our collective peepers with a clash of piquant neons and garish cheetah print?
Similarly, in what ways may a musician direct their audience with a name, an adjective, a verb, a symbol, a year, a phrase, a poem? Heartsleeve rockers Paramore titled their best and most explosive album after themselves, while Nordic apparition Björk prefers to invent her own words, fittingly customised to the new worlds she sculpts.
Melodrama. The Dark Side of the Moon. The ArchAndroid. Bodily Functions. Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, pt2. What do these labels say about the music to which they are appended?
And what, then, is absent from The Absence?
It isn’t an object of affection — the album slips effortlessly between blushing ingénue and crimson femme fatale as needed. It certainly isn’t a comment on deficiency of arrangement or production — the album luxuriates in flowing textures: chiming guitars, silken strings, shimmering tambourines.
What could possibly be absent from such a delicacy as this?
The answer crystallises the moment Melody Gardot steps up the microphone.
What is absent is everything but her.
Melody whispers into existence her own mode of jazz: intricately embroidered, dangerously intimate, rising through ballads and laments, through dirges and festivals to a rapturous, swooning take of ‘La vie en rose’ — in the original French, naturally.
The Absence is tactile pleasure, close enough to touch. Close your eyes and she is there, her warm breath tickling your neck — a breathy quaver capable of navigating playful Latin rhythms with elegance and poise, not to mention ease, lighter than Ella, softer than Eartha, gentler than both. A recent Phoenix album had melted gelato dripping from my ears, and here another nub of synaesthesia finds itself stuck with a shivering prickle of ASMR: with its ever-shifting refractions, flits and flashes of dancing light, The Absence is liquid glass spilling warm through the fingers.
Melody doesn’t need to stoop so low as to push shades and shadows out of the spotlight.
When she is here, everything else is merely absent.