I confess. I am not a deep Willie Nelson fancier. But I do think Gabrielle Stravelli is one of the great improvising-dramatic singers of my time, and I base that on delighted personal observation.
On this CD, she is expansive, resonant, enthusiastic, making each song a sharply realized dramatic vignette with her rich voice splendidly supported by a rollicking big band (splendidly whimsical arrangements by string bassist / cellist / composer Pat O’Leary). These strong performances don’t rely on “acting,” just her soulful emotional scope, the kind of art I associate with Aretha Franklin, even though the two singers don’t sound alike.
As a special bonus, the EarRegulars (if you don’t know who they are, check the search bar) — Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, and Scott Robinson are vividly in evidence on THREE DAYS, as well as an evocative string quartet and Hammond B3. Gabrielle can be poignantly intimate, as on BUTTERFLY (in duet with Scott’s alto flute). A rollicking MAMMAS DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS (Gabrielle hilariously playing tag with John Allred) would make Sarah Vaughan grin. In the middle of this CD, Gabrielle essays STARDUST — and tenderly explores that song as if ninety years of accretion had never happened, in tandem with Scott’s tenor saxophone. She then turns GOOD HEARTED WOMAN into a crooning poem; what I’ve characterized as Gabrielle’s urban meow comes to the surface during the KARMA MEDLEY — with a too-brief interlude where NOBODY SLIDES, MY FRIEND becomes a New Orleans Second Line, snare drum and Jon-Erik Kellso to the fore.
SOMEBODY PICK UP MY PIECES is conceived, magnificently, first as a duet for Gabrielle and Pat O’Leary’s string bass, then growing more expressive, even operatic, as it proceeds. NIGHTLIFE rocks along with what I can only think of as a modern New York City jazz ensemble along for Gabrielle’s ride. ANGEL FLYING TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND — with a magic carpet of strings (real ones, not synthesizer simulacra) is a hymnlike lament imbued with great intensity. ALWAYS ON MY MIND closes the grand tour — a guilt-laden duet with piano — memorably and sorrowfully.
Medleys make it possible to include seventeen songs in twelve performances with arresting thematic juxtapositions. You can hear convincing sound samples here. And here are some vibrant performance videos from Birdland — with our heroes in the band (John Allred, Jon-Erik Kellso, Pat O’Leary, John Allred, Scott Robinson, Jay Rattman) as well. However, a small caveat: the videos allow you to see just how Gabrielle captivates an audience. But the sound on the CD is much better, and you will hear nuances not captured by the Birdland sound system.
LADY LUCK / IF YOU’VE GOT THE MONEY:
The very tender BUTTERFLY:
DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS, wise advice:
KARMA MEDLEY, with echoes of the French Quarter:
PICK UP MY PIECES / CRAZY:
and finally, NIGHTLIFE:
That applause is both real and well-deserved. Gabrielle is both fierce and delicate, and the band follows her every impulse, most eloquently.
May your happiness increase!