Greta Matassa
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Greta Matassa

by Norman Bobrow, from the book Encyclopedia of Northwest Music by James Bush

Greta Matassa's singing is touched by genius—maybe more genius than mere pop songs can handle. Take her signature release, Got a Song That I Sing (1991), an album that will be prized among the many recordings she will no doubt make in her career. The album cover is charming, with childlike ink-sketched song titles, track numbers shaped like little boxes, and a photo of the artist barefooted and wearing a quizzical expression. But the cover art gives little indication of the kind of singing in store. After a single listen, knowledgeable collectors made space for Matassa on their CD shelves, moving aside other jazz women.

It was in a nonmusical setting that Matassa first came to public attention—as Greta Goehle, on a bleak Sunday afternoon in 1990, at a Seattle Sounders soccer match in the city's old Memorial Stadium, to be exact. Even in the acoustically impossible setting of an outdoor sports arena, there was no mistaking the sound of a powerful orchestra—the Jazz Police (with whom Matassa recorded two CDs in the late 1980s)—and the robust jazz expressions of the singer.

Not long after the outdoor performance, Greta released her first CD and then a second album, If the Moon Turns Green, in 1994. That album also features accompanist Joe Baque, who accompanied Matassa in her triumphant early 1999 performance at Seattle's Cabaret de Paris, where she sang the compositions of Kurt Weill.

Got a Song that I Sing, however, is the album that staggers jazz intelligentsia. It's not uncommon to hear traces of role models in any new singer, but Matassa boldly refers to a surprising number of influences. Encompassed in three songs—"Zing Went the Strings of My Heart," "I've Got the World on a String," and "The Lady is a Tramp"—are unmistakable evocations of Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and on "Zing" even Ray Charles. Downtown critics have fancied they detected Judy Garland; this writer hears the red-blooded sensuality of Della Reese in her prime. Heard at a rehearsal of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Matassa's singing—lush and full of angst—echoed the voice of Lotte Lenya. (Did anyone hear Edith Piaf?) There may be no mistaking Matassa's many musical heroes, but to thoroughly enjoy this extraordinary singer, the listener must appreciate her free-spirited sense of fun.



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