“COULDN’T GET ANY MORE LOVELY”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY at BIRDLAND (Tuesdays in June 2022)

Words heard after last night’s performance in the Birdland Theater, May 31, 2022 — a performance by Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass from 5:30 to close to 7 PM.

Gabrielle told us that each of the Tuesdays to come will have a new menu of songs, so what follows is just a list of musical blessings, but since I kept notes, you get to read them The trio started with a very affirmative ‘DEED I DO, then I WISHED ON THE MOON (tender, then swinging), a defiantly rocking A SLEEPIN’ BEE, usually taken at a slow tempo, THAT OLD DEVIL CALLED LOVE, WONDER WHY, an exultantly funky I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO. Then, a swinging I NEVER KNEW (played so often as an instrumental but its sweet archaic lyrics completely convincing) and what was a highlight of the session, LET’S BEGIN, where I thought of Gabrielle both as most expert wooer and the host of a game show where delights waited behind the second door. GET OUT OF TOWN closed with her grinning, saying, “and STAY out!” which was hilarious, then she segued into I’LL BE AROUND, after the final notes dying away, saying, “I don’t always do ‘doormat songs,’ but that one is special.” As the set neared its close, it got even better, with TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, (an audience request that took on wings) a passionate BORN TO BE BLUE, and closing with a romping FOR YOU, FOR ME, FOREVERMORE.

I’d heard this trio (with Dan Block and Danny Tobias added) about two months ago at a party and thought, “They are touching my heart more each time I hear them,” but the Birdland session was the embodiment of heartfelt chamber jazz.

Gabrielle is in superb voice, with operatic strengths but also whispers, side-of-the-mouth secrets, and the occasional growl — all dramatically used to reveal a song’s center. Pat not only sustained the harmonies and the drive but reminded us all that a splendid bass solo is something too precious to talk through, and Michael swung, commented, brought sweetness, comedy, and warmth as needed, as prescribed. At times Pat and Michael reminded me of Ray Brown and Jimmie Rowles, even Hinton and Basie or Jimmy Jones. And the trio is clearly a telepathic band: Gabrielle called a tune, pointed out the key if it needed to be pointed out, and they were off, sharing one perfectly shaped performance after another.

Another lovely aspect: the Birdland Theater is clean and quiet; the piano is well-tuned; the sound system is transparent and unobtrusive. And the substantial audience was near-reverent, as they so often are not. A wonderful place for a pre-theater or escaping-rush-hour gig, and when we emerged, the sky was still bright. And the music rang in our ears.

I was too absorbed to take phone photographs and the management frowns on interlopers with video cameras, so you’ll just have to get there yourself. They’ll be one flight down at 315 West 44th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan every Tuesday in June. Why deprive yourselves? Or, as the Sages say, “Support gigs, they blossom; stay home, they wither.”

May your happiness increase!

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