Daily Archives: September 17, 2019

“PICK UP MY PIECES”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI SINGS WILLIE NELSON

Gabrielle Stravelli by Tom Cocotos

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:

THREE DAYS:

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!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OR ANNIVERSARY, BOYS! CHICAGOANS in CALIFORNIA, CONTINUED (The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 25, 2018)

I read recently that the Chicago Cellar Boys were celebrating being a band for two years: I don’t know whether we should wish them HAPPY BIRTHDAY or HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, but my impulse is to celebrate them: their wonderful mixture of exactitude and abandon is so very inspiring, so hot, so sweet.  How do we celebrate here at JAZZ LIVES?  We share video that you haven’t seen before unless you were at the gig.  That’s what we do!

KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE, not only a good song but a fine life-maxim, performed in the style of the Apex Club Orchestra, with its verse as well:

ROSY CHEEKS, with an idiomatic vocal chorus by Paul Asaro:

Clarence Williams’ BOTTOMLAND, played at a yearning tempo:

A word about husbands who suffer; take it seriously or not, POOR PAPA:

Another song related to Jimmie Noone’s small band, which performed at the El Dorado Club — I read that EL RADO SCUFFLE was named because some of the lighting on the club’s sign was not working:

SO TIRED, which is obviously not the Cellar Boys’ theme song:

SWEET EMMALINE, recorded in 1928 by Clarence Williams.  Is there any truth to the rumor, half-remembered, which has Clarence saying, late in life, that he wrote none of the music for which he took credit?

A great band!

Incidentally, parents in the JAZZ LIVES audience are surely familiar with “the terrible twos,” where the toddler says NO to everything, dramatically.  The CCB say NO to many things: inauthentic music, badly played music, striped vests, stuffed pets on the gig, poor-quality snacks in the musicians’ room, too-tight polo shirts.  To wonderful music they say YES, as do we.

Two other bits of relevant information.  The Cellar Boys will be back at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, and they will have copies of their debut CD, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, which is a Rivermont Records production.  Also for Rivermont, they’ve recorded a microgroove 78 rpm record (four songs) if it isn’t sold out by now.

And if you’ve never seen a copy of THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, you owe it to yourself to click on the bright-blue rectangle below, which is there for some good reasons.

May your happiness increase!