Black Sesame
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Black Sesame


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"Catch of the Day"


Sydney violinist and vocalist Melissa Cox has offered a stunning song for you all on

Going by the name Black Sesame, "Angel Songs" is kind of what it sounds like... sweet, smooth and delicate. It showcases her musical talents and her handiwork behind a computer too. This is great local fare, and is my catch of the day today. - Triple J website

"mX album review"

"It was a wise move by Sydney singer Melissa Cox, aka Black Sesame, to make use of the talents of ARIA award nominees CODA strings on this, her debut. Their powerful influence complements her breathy and sensual tunes. It's perfect to listen to on a lazy Sunday - the highs are high and the lows are hopeful and almost comforting. Chilled, creative and hopefully a sign of things to come. It's not a perfect album but it's certainly on the brink."
- Andrea Beattie, mX, Thursday August 23rd 2007 - mX

"On the brink"


Melissa Cox is Black Sesame, a not-quite-jazz project that grew out of time in a jazz course at Sydney's Conservatorium of Music, Liz Giuffre learns.

"Well you know, some of the songs I would have written about five years ago but I didn't plan to make an album at that point. From when I decided to make an album, it's been about two-and-a-half years so far... I actually recorded it in April last year; it's really quite a long journey," Melissa Cox says down the phone. She speaks easily and warmly, an honesty that comes through in her music. It's something she's honed through varied experience and some good old-fashioned patience. "I went overseas for three months. I went to China to do some jazz gigs and I also went to Europe, but I took the album with me. For ages I was uptight about it... but I'm glad it's taken the time it's taken because I listen to it now and I'm like, 'Wow, this is great'."

The result of Cox's slow and steady creation process is an unusual recording, Brink. Drawing on a range of influences and featuring her gorgeous airy vocal as well as her violin prowess and some electronic influences, it will no doubt be an album that will give fans lots to work with, but perhaps leave PR people with a big job on their hands. "I find it really [hard to] categorise music a lot of the time. I don't know what Black Sesame is; it's not jazz but it's not rock either," she says. By way of assistance, I ask what jazz is really - a can of worms that is bigger than either of us can handle at this point in the day. "That's a really difficult question and it's a question that jazz musicians fight about. There is some music that's very clearly jazz because it falls clearly within the boundaries of an already understood notion of what jazz has been in the past, but at the cutting edge of jazz is where things can get blurred, and that's what's really exciting.

"There's not a big space for improvisation in Black Sesame, so I guess that's why it's not jazz. Each song is quite specific and when I was writing I wanted each song to be like a sound picture. Some of the harmonies are jazz influenced but [Black Sesame] is a bit more song oriented - it's not really about just getting up there and taking a ten-minute violin solo and letting the guitarist take a ten-minute solo."

In addition to running the Black Sesame whatever-you-might-call-it show, Cox also moonlights as a garden variety session musician, a change of pace that has not only sparked her own creativity but serves as a nice break. "Every now and again someone will ask for something with strings on it [and I get a call]. I've been rehearsing with an African band at the moment, working as a hired violin girl, I love doing those gigs because it's someone else's responsibility," she laughs.

Talking about such collaborations is clearly as exciting to Cox as her own creations, with another musician's viewpoint something she relishes, particularly as a way of another type of expression. "I've worked quite a bit with Dominique Fraissard who's fantastic... Sometimes jazz in an environment [like the Conservatorium] can be a bit cold, a bit heartless, but Dom would say 'Okay Mel, I'm thinking of something a bit slimy'. He'd just throw an adjective at me-I loved it. I loved that because I knew what he was going for and I could go for that in my own way."

- Inpress Magazine 22/08/07 p84 - InPress Magazine

"Black Sesame - from maths to music and song"


Fusing elements of rock and jazz, electro and acoustic, with poetic lyrics meant to be listened to, the music that Melissa Cox makes as Black Sesame is not easy to classify. And that's the way she likes it.

"I don't want it to sound like I'm recycling material that has become generic," said the Sydney Conservatorium of Music graduate whose debut CD, Brink, is due out early in 2007 and is currently getting airplay on FBi and 2SER. "And I like all my songs to sound different from each other."

They do - from 'Engage me' with its pockets of sexy sultriness, to the edgy, driving 'I know' with its cross rhythms reflecting its characters' cross purposes, to the tender 'Angel songs', intimately soft yet intricate in its meaning-laden layers of sound. "I want every song to be a little miniature work of art," said the singer-songwriter and violinist who's not easy to classify either.

In her 'day job' she sings jazz standards - which she's done as far afield as Scotland, Japan and China - supplemented by tutoring mathematics at the University of Sydney. "I like having a room full of students and I like maths - and it's good to keep that part of the brain ticking over," she said.

It was when she was doing her PhD in maths, studying the social organisation of ants and honeybees, both at Sydney University and Bath in England, that she started writing songs.

"The more I immersed myself in science, the more the creative aspects I'd been ignoring kept bubbling out," she said. "It was inevitable that I ended up going back and studying music."

She chose to do the Conservatorium's two-year Diploma in Jazz Studies, concentrating on violin which she'd learnt from the age of seven as a classical instrument.

"Having had a few years without touching violin eased me into improvisation, because there's a paradigm shift between classical music and jazz," she said. "Classical music is about reading the notes and playing it exactly as the composer intended. In jazz you rely much more on your ear."

The compositional aspects and harmony classes where students arrange other people's tunes were what she most enjoyed about the course, along with 'concert practice' where students perform with a band they've put together and rehearsed, she said. The latter gave her the chance to write her own tunes, some of which she later reworked into songs that ended up on Brink, so named "because there's a common thread of precariousness or transition in the songs".

Brink features Dr Cox as upfront vocalist as well as violinist, with fellow musicians on guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. Samples from the CD can be heard on her website here the CD will soon be available as an mp3 download before it's released in February. Black Sesame's highly original music can be next heard live at 10pm on 11 January at the Orange Grove Hotel, Leichhardt, then as part of "Poptarts" at the Empire Hotel, Annandale on Mondays22 January and 26 February (times to be confirmed).

"I like playing in rooms where people are prepared to sit and listen. It's all about engaging people," she said.

- Louise Maral, UniNews, 26/12/06 - UniNews


"Brink" - 2007 [distributed by Green Media]. Debut album.

"A new entity - first anniversary compilation" - 2008 [multiple artists]

Since its release in August 2007, every track on "brink" has received airplay within Australia.

The single "Angel songs" has not only received national radioplay but was also picked up for use as a backing track on national television programme, "Hack".



Fusing elements of rock and jazz, electro and acoustic, with lyrics steeped in poetry, the music that vocalist/violinist Melissa Cox makes as Black Sesame has drawn comparisons to artists as diverse as Björk and Leonard Cohen. There is an underlying jazz influence - unsurprising considering Melissa has performed internationally as a jazz artist, most recently touring China. But as Black Sesame, it’s a darker palette that inspires her writing; a night rainbow of colours and sounds, at once modern and timeless, intimate and compelling.

In August 2007 she launched her evocative debut album, “brink”, which has been described as:

“Stunning.”—Zan Rowe, JJJ
“Chilled, creative...hopefully a sign of things to come.”—mX album review
“Brilliant. ... I love the album.”—John Carver, 3PBS FM
“ amazing piece of work."—Bob Tissot, 2NIM FM
“...highly innovative."—Tony Bates, 3CH FM
“Tres fresh... gorgeous work.”—Deepchild
“Gorgeous compositions and a voice to match.”—Inga Liljeström