It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in May — on the East Side of New York City — but Yaala Ballin made us forget about the gloom outside, with the help of John Lang, string bass, and Pasquale Grasso, guitar. All of this took place at The Churchill Tavern (45 East 28th St, 646 476-8419) — an “English pub” with appropriate food and decor, where the recorded voice of Winston Churchill accompanies one’s ablutions in the restroom — a novel sensation.
But the voice that concerned us, and rightly so, was Yaala’s. She isn’t brassy or overemphatic, but she knows where she’s going — no timidity or indecision. Whether she’s singing a straight-from-the-shoulder blues, a tender ballad, or a swing tune, she is definitely on target. Her melody statements have surprising dips and turns, and her improvisations are brave, intent, and sometimes startling — but always with the powerful assurance of a graceful athlete who knows what she’s capable of and then takes delighted and delightful risks in addition. On this gig, she was supported nobly by the elegantly fleet Pasquale Grasso, weaving deep tapestries of swinging sound on guitar, and the solid, nimble bassist John Lang.
Yaala and her strings found new things to reveal and explore in the most familiar repertoire — making a drizzly Sunday afternoon memorable. (And although several of her songs come from Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington, she doesn’t pattern herself after Lady Day or Miss D — Yaala’s time, swing, and feeling are her own — a very good thing for all of us.)
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:
WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:
RICH MAN’S BLUES:
MY SHINING HOUR:
BODY AND SOUL:
LOVE WALKED IN:
BABY, GET LOST:
YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:
EVIL GAL / SALTY PAPA BLUES:
YOU GO TO MY HEAD:
Yaala has a wonderful new CD out, called LIVE SESSION: read more about it and see fine videos of her here. Thanks to Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Jeanie Wilson — the best jazz guides!
May your happiness increase!