Hannah Burgé: Green River Sessions
By Raul da Gama
The act of singing may be described as producing musical sounds with the voice to augment regular speech, by the use of both tonality and rhythm. This would suggest that anyone who could speak can also sing, which might easily be the case, except that there is the small matter of instinct and flair and immaculate taste. And while vocal pedagogy can teach vocalists how to learn to interpret most distinctive elements of a composition—from the classical to the popular—the singer is either born with the former three characteristics or not. Hannah Burgé has been blest with all of those, which puts her in the category of singers who are born and not made. The evidence is all over Green River Sessions, an extraordinarily well-produced record. It is also Ms. Burgé’s debut as a recording artist and it is also likely to propel her into a rather rarefied realm, one inhabited by a handful of debutants.
Hannah Burgé’s astonishing voice is characterised by a certain fey vulnerability. This whimsical charm is accentuated by the choice of material on the album. It would appear that the programme has been thoughtfully chosen to bring out all of the beauty of her voice in all of its luxuriant purple harmonies. Ms. Burgé deploys her voice to sit wonderfully within her small, but elegant range, showing off its rich timbres contained within. Her fluttering vocals are made more attractive by the fact that hers is a voice that occupies the middle of that soprano range, which means she is neither shrill nor grumbling, but exquisite and fetching, and charismatically poised. One has only to listen to “I’m In,” a composition by Ms. Burgé, to really appreciate the seemingly effortless control of breath and lyrical line, float the text of tenderness and tranquility. It is here as well as elsewhere (in Nica’s Dream, for instance) Ms. Burgé provides a judiciously proportioned rendition, supportive and sensitive to the story-line of the song. There is also a sense that the singer inhabits the dramaturgy of the music as if it were created just for her voice and its vocalastics.
Hannah Burgé finds an exquisite foil in the voice of the pianist, Robi Botos. It would seem that the two share an innate understanding of the expressive spectrum of the music. And while the singer draws from the whole range of vocal inflection to characterise the pain and resignation, defiance and joy of the stories of the songs, Mr. Botos’ piano-playing, almost spiritually aligned to the vocalists, finds just the right emphasis and rhythmic pulse necessary for the songs to slide or soar. This does not mean that the other musicians play only a notional role in the recording. Bassist Paco Luviano and drummer Mark Kelso are compelling and throughout. Harmonica wizard Hendrik Meurkens and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson—who makes a cameo appearances on “I’m In” and on “Be My Love” and “Sunshine Samba” respectively show off their creative impulses in conjuring up the lyrical imagery of the songs. Remarkably all it takes is one hearing for Green River Sessions to make the strongest impression with its bright colouring. Repeated hearings bring out the strongest impression of Ms. Burgé’s voice in all its magnificence.