When Norah Jones gave her melodies importance within the music, they thrived and had nice memorable qualities. Songs like “And Then There Was You”, “Don’t Be Denied”, and “Once I Had A Laugh” had melodies that commanded attention and did well to drive the music with nice repetition and flow. Even when Jones didn’t necessarily give space for the melody to rise of above the texture, the individual lines were still pleasing and well written. The last song of the album, “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower)”, is a great example of this. The primary melody is rarely even present and only comes in the singer’s hums or the high strings. The melody itself, though, is a wonderful simplistic line that stays with the listener and is very memorable. Other songs such as “Tragedy” and “It’s A Wonderful Time For Love” do this as well to a certain extent.
The only major issue I have with Jones’ melodies is that they seemed too isolated at times without taking the support they were given. This isn’t a huge problem since the lines are nicely crafted in the first place, but overall they needed a bit more fusion with the harmony to get to the next level of beauty. They are already quite beautiful and a joy to listen to. If Jones can work just a bit harder on giving her melodies more presence and cohesiveness, we’d be looking at something truly special. Some were already at that level in Day Breaks, so she certainly has the skill and musicality to continue on a path to greatness.
The harmony fluctuated a bit from being incredibly neat to slightly unnoticeable, all while being unique. At times, the harmony struggles a bit to stay discernible and progressive within the smooth jazz setting. “Tragedy” and “Flipside” were exceptions, but the rest of the songs that implemented heavy jazz harmony didn’t quite seem to find their way within the music. They either rocked back and forth between a couple of distantly related chords, as in “And Then There Was You”, or sounded a little too off course and untamed, as in “Peace”. Other than those small points, the harmony was quite exceptional.
Simple experimentation worked very well for Jones, especially in the beautiful harmonic progressions of “Day Breaks” and “Carry On”. Nothing about them was too expansive or wild, but they used recognizable chords in a unique and nuanced way. During the many times when the melody took a break throughout the album, the harmonies took full advantage and kept the music alive with strong presence and cool progressions. I only wish the harmonic motion was less masked by the conglomerate of individual tones when attempting to sound less confined. Jazz is very difficult to write in this regard, but it can be done and does have its place. I enjoyed the amount of musical diversity that Day Breaks reached through harmonic expression.
Timbre is the domain in which Jones shows her true brilliance as a musician in Day Breaks. No one could have predicted that writing in reminiscent styles of jazz and country at the same time would come off as such a success. Jones keeps a consistent feel of smoothness and calm throughout while bringing out the unpredictability of jazz and the safe feel of country and folk. Her voice was well suited for the type of environment she set up. There were no big dips in timbral quality; no matter what effect she was going for, be it temperate or habitual or youthful, she found a way to pull it off through her instrumental combinations.
She certainly succeeded most with her jazz style in terms of instrumental effectiveness. The first five songs to start the album gave a magnificent sense of coolness and fire at the same time by use of great combos highlighted by the piano. The saxophone then takes over the listener’s interest by the end of the album with surprise entrances and breathtaking tone. Even the use of organ on a few songs provided an underrated sense of balance and uniqueness. Overall, the ethereal yet familiar nature of the timbre was very well done, and is the main reason why this album is so good.
Norah Jones is a huge recognizable name within the music world and has been very consistent throughout her career in creating quality music. Day Breaks follows this consistent path of quality while finding a slightly new voice each time. She relies on the familiar sound of the piano while infusing new and creative ideas with the help of great musicians. Despite her great output, her influential power has seemed to tail off a bit in recent years. The daughter of Ravi Shankar has now become just one of those faces that show up every couple of years to the public. Still, her fan base is incredibly strong and will keep this album alive for a while. While Day Breaks may not have been at the level of accessibility to the average listener, it is still highly respectable and should be fully accepted by those in the music world. My guess is it probably won’t break containment from that.