Tag Archives: Abigail Riccards

WHEN BEAUTY IS THE ONLY WAY: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN

When the soul needs solacing, anti-inflammatories from the bathroom medicine chest just won’t do.  I present two you two deep practitioners of the healing arts: Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the two of them in duet only twice, but each time remains memorable.  Here are two songs from their recitals that are especially soulful: we need such balm.

Even though this performance begins whimsically — Abigail’s impromptu version of NAME THAT TUNE, with Michael as the sole contestant — it quickly becomes an unforgettable expression of quiet longing:

Abigail continues to make music of the most lovely kind in Chicago; Michael is simultaneously in New York and touring the world. Together or singly, they improve our world.

May your happiness increase!

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ASKING THE UNANSWERABLE QUESTION IN SONG

I am not suffering from romantic despair, so I don’t know what drew me to revisit this performance (recorded slightly more than two years ago) but I find it so delicate yet powerful that I want to draw your attention to it.

It is a performance of a melancholy Irving Berlin classic by the singer Abigail Riccards and the pianist Michael Kanan — recorded at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York, on October 6, 2013.  Abigail’s charades at the start made me giggle then and still do . . . but the mood turns quiet and serious quickly.

I think of this performance as a triumph of that indefinable quality called “phrasing” — how do musicians pace the notes and the words so that the message is clear without over-emphasis, keeping the melodic and rhythmic momentum going so that the song does not come to a stop?

And “phrasing” is always in tandem with other indefinables — “dynamics,” “interpretation,” “emotion.”  This performance could have become a dirge.  It could have become a protest, a near-shout of despair, of rage.  But here it is a translucent poem.

I do not know how Abigail and Michael do what they do, singly and as a team, but it moves me beyond words.  I blink back tears because of the quiet irrevocable gravity they create, yet I want to cheer because they remind me that such beauty is still possible in this world that sometimes seems to find beauty incomprehensible or irritating:

It was an honor to be there, a privilege to record this, and a deep experience to see and hear it again. And I would point you here to learn more about Abigail and Michael and her most recent CD, a trumph.

May your happiness increase!

GET MELLOW, YOU DOGS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN ALLRED, MURRAY WALL, WARREN VACHÉ, MENNO DAAMS, SHANNON BARNETT, HARVEY TIBBS at THE EAR INN (October 6, 2013)

I was too exhilarated on the evening of October 6, 2013, to put my feelings into words.  The music played at The Ear Inn — the second set of one of the EarRegulars’ Sunday-night revival meetings in swing — was extraordinary.

The EarRegulars on their own are a splendid group — led by trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and featuring guitarist Matt Munisteri — with an extensive coterie of gifted friends who send us creative gifts Sunday after Sunday.  This Sunday the quartet began with John Allred, trombone, and Pat O’Leary, string bass.

The guests were a brassy bunch (with the exception of string bassist Murray Wall): Warren Vaché (imported from New Jersey) and Menno Daams (from the Netherlands), cornets; Shannon Barnett (from Australia) and Harvey Tibbs (from uptown), trombones.

The second set was a glorious yet expert conversation — friendly musical dialogues at the highest level.  Yes, the solo playing was brilliant, but the easy mastery of the common language (riffs, backgrounds) was just as thrilling.

The first selection here was suggested by an elegant woman from Edinburgh whose name eluded me (I hope she reads this blog so I may identify her properly).  Her jazz credentials are perfect, for she asked for Herschel Evans’ line for the Basie band of 1937-9, DOGGIN’ AROUND.  A sextet of brilliant players assembled: from the left, Warren, Menno, Jon-Erik, John (in the front line); Murray and Matt in the rear:

And as if four horns weren’t enough, how about a few trombones for IN A MELLOTONE?  Warren left for New Jersey after dramatically taking some bills out of his pocket, stuffing them into Phillup DeBucket and announcing loudly, “Tip the band, you cheap _____!” and vanishing into the night.

Menno, Jon-Erik, Shannon, John, Harvey, Murray, and Matt rocked not only The Ear Inn but probably the entire five-borough area.

Mellowly!

Before this set at The Ear Inn, I had been at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn) to experience the beauty of Abigail Riccards singing and Michael at the piano.  The very moving evidence is here.

An amazing evening.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET MAGIC: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN at THE DRAWING ROOM (October 6, 2013)

Singer Abigail Riccards and pianist Michael Kanan are a special pair. Their gently fresh approach to great songs is revelatory: they proceed wisely and tenderly.  I find myself thinking, “Have I ever truly heard that song before?  I know STARDUST, but have I ever heard it so completely realized?”  They enhance rather than distort; they embody Ezra Pound’s artistic manifesto for Modernism — MAKE IT NEW — without dishonoring the original intent of the music or words.

What Abigail and Michael create springs from gracious courage: the sweet bravery of souls leaping into the unknown and enacting beauty for us.  Magic without tricks.  Although Abigail sounds as if she is just offering the words and notes, as casual as a note left on the refrigerator door, she is a cunning subtle actress, whose speaking delivery carries great feeling and meaning in every phrase.  Michael Kanan lights our path in every way: the most gracious of men, at the keyboard and otherwise.

I was fortunate enough to witness their tender shape-changing on October 6 at Michael’s new studio, The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn.  Here is the first set.  One marvel unfolds after another.

As an aside — ordinarily I edit out some of the conversation between songs.  In this case, since Abigail is devilishly witty — a splendid improvising comedienne, too — I have left everything as my camera recorded it.

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

WHERE OR WHEN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

STARDUST:

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN:

BLUE SKIES:

WHAT’LL I DO?

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

LUCKY TO BE ME:

We are the lucky ones, because we live where such beauty flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTLY WILD: MENNO DAAMS and EHUD ASHERIE at The Knickerbocker, New York (October 8, 2013)

I’ve always thought that wonderful things are happening while I am sleeping, missing out on them. Possibly a neurotic idea, but occasionally the evidence confirms it.

Last night, Tuesday, October 8, 2013, pianist Ehud Asherie had another week of his regular solo piano gig at The Knickerbocker on 33 University Place, New York City.  That in itself would be an excellent thing: Ehud is a masterful improviser whose imagination roams around the entirety of jazz.  He has a classical touch and a deeply wry sense of humor.  And he never ever forgets how to swing!

But Ehud had a friend — someone dear to me, the Dutch trumpeter Menno Daams.  (To be accurate, he brought his cornet.)  And his lovely wife — that’s no cliche — Ineke Rienks, captured the duo’s performance of WILD MAN BLUES.

You would think with that title that wild unbridled passion would be governing their art, but to create wildness, or the impression of it, a great deal of expert mastery, of fierce restraint is needed.  Dionysiac wildness would know little of bar lines, chord changes, or sympathetic accompaniment. Menno and Ehud are so skilled at evoking the tradition as a way of singing their own individualistic songs.  Although the room in this shot looks empty, it was filled with the admiring spirits of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Henry Red Allen, Rex Stewart, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Bud Powell . . . and more.  And first among equals?  Ehud Asherie.  Menno Daams.

As a postscript.  People who know me have noted my recent but powerfully-growing love of California (specifically Marin and the Bay Area) and the people, jazz friends and others.  But often during the preceding week  (Menno’s trip to New York, hanging out with Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, Becky Kilgore, Ed Metz, Jim Czak, John Post, and Bill Moss; hearing Warren Vache, Shannon Barnett, Harvey Tibbs, and others sit in with the Munisteri-Kellso EarRegulars at The Ear Inn; hearing Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan in Brooklyn) . . . I think that New York is putting up a really good fight.  “You like Marin?  You enjoy the farmers’ market?  You’ve made friends with all sorts of people, from Sam Rocha to Beck Ringle?  You’ve heard wonderful music?  Fine, Michael!  Let New York show you what WE can do . . . .!”  Tune in tomorrow, boys and girls.  Who knows what will happen next?

May your happiness increase!

ABIGAIL RICCARDS: HER HEART IS IN HER SONG

Two years ago, the pianist Michael Kanan invited me to hear and video his duo-recital with the singer Abigail Riccards, who was moving from New York to Chicago.  I had not heard of Abigail, but Michael’s endorsement of any artist is an unshakable statement of the artist’s deep value.  I was immediately impressed with Abby’s steady pace, her wise understanding of lyrics, her ability to evoke feelings in us with even the most familiar song, and her light-hearted swing.

Here they are with a prayerful ALL THE WAY: you’ll get the idea of what so struck me, and everyone else listening — the warmth, openness, intelligence, and empathy of Abigail’s singing.

I’ve been waiting for a CD that would show Abigail at her best, and EVERY LITTLE STAR is it.

abigailriccard_everylittlestar_cmb

Co-produced by Jane Monheit and Abigail herself, it is a consistent delight.  Some of that is due to the musicians she asked to join her: Michael on piano, Peter Bernstein, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  Some of it is due to the sprightly mix of songs Abigail has chosen: old favorites made new — I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR / SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN / IF I HAD YOU / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / A SLEEPIN’ BEE / I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SMILE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD / WALTZ FOR DEBBY — and an original by Jeannie Tanner, ENDLESS JOY, and Joni Mitchell’s CIRCLE GAME (a duet for Abigail and Jane).

But this isn’t another program of a youthful singer offering up songs everyone knows in predictable ways.  You will quickly admire the easy, conversational way Abigail delivers the lyrics — words uttered as if the thoughts were hers — and her sweet improvisations, which shed light on the song rather than superimposing her ego on the composer’s.  Her generous spirit comes through in the substantial space she gives to Michael, Neal, Peter, and Eliot — so that when she returns after their instrumental interludes, it is as if she is now being carried triumphantly on their shoulders.

The tempos chosen are also deliciously insightful: ballads never drag and the quicker songs don’t rush.  Little arranging touches raise each performance well above the familiar: a wordless prelude to IF I HAD YOU; a nifty beginning to HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?; the way Abigail and Jane intertwine on CIRCLE GAME; the tender way she and the band approach I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU; the bouncing scat chorus with which she begins I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE before shifting to another key. . .

My current favorites — instant classics! — are a Riccards / Kanan duet of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that begins with an slow rubato reading of the verse, then slowly tumbles into the chorus . . . where we hear singer and pianist discovering this 1929 classic as if for the first time.  I couldn’t immediately place where I had heard such intimacy before, then it hit me — the Fifties duets of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  The same qualities are evident throughout A SLEEPIN’ BEE, a Riccards / Kanan duet.  And in the Riccards / Bernstein SMILE, tender and rueful without being melancholic.

On the dozen songs that make up this varied program, Abigail Riccards proves herself not only a splendidly intuitive singer, but an artist who is the equal of the fine improvising instrumentalists around her.

Now, hearing this, you could choose to explore the banquet of live performances Abigail Riccards has on YouTube, and I wouldn’t blame you a bit.  But I would urge you to take the leap forward into purchasing this CD here.  All CD sales go to ArtStrides (a nonprofit program for special needs and financially disadvantaged children) so you benefit them by your generosity and you benefit yourself by having this music to listen to often.  

May your happiness increase!

THE HEART OF THE SONG: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 12, 2011)

Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan inspire awe and wonder.

I experienced this first-hand in a small Brooklyn studio last Sunday, June 12, 2011, and share the music with you here. 

These two artists created music full of feeling but never “dramatic.”  Each song had its own pliant shape, with unaffected casual intensity and splendor. 

Abigail has a speaking directness.  Her mobile voice arches into long tones and soaring phrases; she lives within the lyric and the melody she is singing.  She makes each song full of small peaks of intelligence and emotion. 

Hear, for instance, how she handles the words “drop a line” in Wilder’s I’LL BE AROUND.  Her TOO LATE NOW is almost unbearably poignant yet it doesn’t whimper or carry on.  Her approach is at once serious and joyous.  BLUE SKIES cavorts. 

And although these songs are not new — each one has powerful ghosts standing behind the curtain to upstage the living artists — Abigail takes her own small liberties and makes them work, turning IN LOVE IN VAIN (one of the saddest songs I know) into something a little more resilient, in the same fashion that Billie Holiday recreated TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE as her own nearly defiant statement. 

Abigail’s singing touched everyone in the room: even in the videos here, you can feel their powerful quiet empathy and delight.  I hear a great artistry.

Michael is a poet at the keyboard with none of the pretense some have brought to that role.  I think often of Jimmy Rowles when he plays, and at times of the witty, pointed spareness of John Lewis.  Like Abigail, he never overacts, never calls attention to himself in some look-at-me way, but you can’t help but pay attention — both to what he is creating and what trodden ways he is wisely avoiding. 

His sound is lucent; his pauses are knowing and subtle; he is a master of light and shade and shadow.  At its most serene and quiet, his playing is resonant. 

The art of accompaniment might be the most arduous of endeavors, and Michael is the most generous of partners, sweetly creating just the right sound-shape to make the singer or players around him seem even better. 

And these two artists create a delicate yet powerful musical world in duet — their playful energies complementing each other.  They are gracious; they are polite; they don’t interrupt each other’s sentences, but together they make something wise and subtle and rich that wasn’t there a minute before. 

They offer and enact deep calm and brave experiment.

LUCKY TO BE ME:

TOO LATE NOW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

I’LL BE AROUND:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED:

ALL THE WAY:

BLUE SKIES:

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE:

Throughout this performance, I kept feeling it was an honor to be in the same room, a privilege to witness and record such art.  I still do.