Tag Archives: great singing

THE REMARKABLE YAALA BALLIN: “LIVE SESSION”

Yaala Ballin knows how to share.  And that’s special in itself.  We first met her at a Marianne Solivan gig at Iridium, where the elegant Ms. Ballin was placed next to us.  She had ordered a dessert — which turned out to be a slice of red velvet cake — and although we had only known each other for a matter of minutes, she offered us half.  Old-fashioned style.

YAALA BALLIN

And then we heard her sing!  Frankly, her musical art is more gratifying than any dessert I could imagine.  Her new CD, LIVE SESSION, was recorded at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, in October 2012 — audio and video by Neal Miner.  On it, Yalla sings alongside Michael, piano; Ari Roland, string bass; Keith Balla, drums.

Here are the details and audio excerpts of each performance.  For those impatient with clicking, the songs are NOBODY ELSE BUT ME / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / HOW LITTLE WE KNOW / FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / ALWAYS.

Yaala Ballin stands out because of her artistic integrity — that gives great delight.  Her artistry is very plain: she does not “dramatize”; she does not obliterate the song with her own ornamentations; she does not coo or woo.  She does not impersonate any one of The Great Dead.

Rather, she has a beautiful voice, unerring rhythmic command, and courage: her rubato embellishments are both brave and sure-footed. Her singing is confident, assured, as if a great actress strode on stage, sure of herself and her lines, deeply informed about the music she wants to make and the effect she hopes it will have on us.  Nothing is studied; there are no faux-spontaneous gestures; her singing seems utterly natural and at the same time powerful, focused.  Although Yalla is not yet forty, her singing is mature; we listen to her and relax, secure in her mastery of music and lyrics.  She plays with the song while honoring it, as do her superb accompanists.

What she so generously shares with us is remarkable.

Here is her website, and her Facebook page.

But you don’t need to take any of this on faith.  Neal Miner has posted videos of LIVE SESSION on the Gut String Records YouTube channel.  You can see that my praise of Yaala Ballin is based on her deep musical knowledge, enthusiasm, and empathy.

Here are two of the seven performances:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (with the rare and moving verse):

and the witty and touching NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

Convinced?  I thought you would be.  Yaala has a number of New York City gigs, but the one I have circled on my calendar is this: she and Michael Kanan will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street) on May 12, 2013, at 7:30. I’ll be there!

May your happiness increase.

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DON’T JUST SIT THERE . . . SWING SOMETHING! (Hanna Richardson, Phil Flanigan, Randy Reinhart, Stefan Vasnier, Jared Mulcahy: DO SOMETHING)

I’ve been waiting for this CD for a long time . . . and it satisfies!  Not only does it have a sweetly spiky Modernist cover; inside the paper sleeve is some of the best swinging music you’ll hear.  No hyperbole; no jokes.

“What could cause Michael to make such extravagant claims?” one might ask.  Well, some history.  In the beginning of this century, I was reviewing CDs for The Mississippi Rag, a periodical I miss almost as much as I miss its editor, the sainted and funny and sharp Leslie Johnson.  A new CD came to me featuring a singer I’d never heard of, Hanna Richardson, and a bassist I knew, Phil Flanigan.  I put it on and was immediately happy: they swung without pretense, they improvised sweetly; they made fine melodies sound better, turning them this way and that to the light.  Warmth without sentimentality was their goal, and they accomplished it on every track — often leavened with sly wit.

Eventually I got to meet Hanna and Phil, to see them in the recording studio and to delight in their live performance.  Then, through the Jazz Grapevine, news leaked out from a secret spot in upstate New York.  Hanna and Phil had picked up electrified tenor guitars (four strings, no waiting) and had added them to the Richardson-Flanigan entourage.  And videos started to appear on YouTube of a group they called — with tongue-in-cheek (but not so seriously that Hanna’s sterling enunciation was hampered) TENOR MADNESS.

Your Honor, Exhibit A, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Hanna, Phil, Tom Bronzetti):

EXHIBIT B, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME? (Hanna, Phil, Stefan Vasnier):

I rest my case.  Ain’t they something?

And now, Hanna, Phil (alternating between string bass and tenor guitar), Randy Reinhart (cornet), Stefan Vasnier (piano), Jared Mulcahy (string bass) have made what they used to call AN ALBUM . . . with the provocative title DO SOMETHING.  The songs are THREE LITTLE WORDS (with the sweet verse) / FOOLIN’ MYSELF (where Hanna goes her own wistful way, not copying Billie) / WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME? / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID (where housework is the way to Romance) / THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU / ME MINUS YOU (with great wit — remembering Miss Connee Boswell!) / ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE (for the shade of Tiny Grimes) / TALK TO ME BABY (a twentieth-century realistic love ditty) / DO SOMETHING (a call to arms!) / I DOUBLE DARE YOU / SHOW YOUR LINEN, MISS RICHARDSON (where Johnny Mercer has never sounded so good).

Not only does our Miss Richardson sound better than ever, but the band, the band . . . is a marvel — rhythm that you could use to walk to Florida, and Randy’s glowing cornet, suggesting Sweets Edison here and Bobby Hackett there.

It is possible that my readers need this CD.  Birthdays, Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving, no occasion at all.  It’s a beauty.  Learn more (as we say) here.

May your happiness increase.

PAY ATTENTION! NO FOOLIN’: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI and FRIENDS in THE DRAWING ROOM (April 1, 2012)

Singer Gabrielle Stravelli is a delight.

I first heard her only a few weeks ago at a noisy brunch gig.  Unruffled by the loud laughter, the eager conversations,  the crash of dishes, she sailed on, serenely swinging, opening her heart to the audience.

She has feeling but no melodrama, an easy, open approach to the song — with a casual natural style that fits her varied material.

And if an artist is judged by the company he or she keeps, please take a look at the instrumentalists below.  This Sunday-evening gig will take place at pianist Michael Kanan’s beautifully calm studio, The Drawing Room.  Michael will be at the piano; the stellar, mobile bassist Pat O’Leary will be doing what he does so well; the nimble Michael Petrosino will be behind his drum kit.

The Drawing Room is at 70 Willoughby Street #2A, in Brooklyn.  The “R” train stops at the corner; many other trains make it their business to come to a halt at the Jay Street station, two blocks away.  Even I could find my way.  April 1, but no joke — 8 to 10 PM.    $10 admission, with a cash wine bar.  And beautiful music!