CD Review: DREAM AGO (Gabrielle Stravelli)

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by Tony Frankel on April 4, 2017



Well, it finally happened. After a slew of cabaret CD’s from solo artists that lack distinction, originality, and cool arrangements, I happened upon a rising-star in both the cabaret and jazz worlds. The first thing you will notice about Gabrielle Stravelli is that voice: Unforced, earthy, flexible, playful and unpretentious, her jazzy/cool spectrum of colors offers twirls of tremolos and trills that never sound like tricks (and no belting — hallelujah!).

The second thing I noticed on her great new well-produced release, Dream Ago, were Pat O’Leary’s arrangements: Right off the bat, Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing” (from the 1941 film You’ll Never Get Rich) gets an urban-contemporary overdubbing choir that is so refreshing it was as if the song had never been covered before. Next we’re swinging to “Cake of My Childhood,” an infectious scat-filled cover of — wait a minute — this isn’t a cover. The immediately accessible tune is an original composition by Stravelli and O’Leary (whose immaculate bass work on each track always retains character while deferring to the singer).

Stravelli also wrote both music and lyrics for the haunting, lyrical ballad, “If Only Love Was Blind,” which, aided by Art Hirahara’s sensitive piano, immediately gets in your blood. (Also on the album are the jazz world’s best-of-the-best: David Cook on Fender Rhodes and piano, Eric Halvorson on drums, Saul Rubin on guitar, Scott Robinson on reeds and brass, and Kenny Washington on vocals.)

The trifecta is completed here by terrific songs, and not necessarily from well-known composers. I have known about the great be-boppist Bob Dorough because of his work with Blossom Dearie, but rare are the covers of his tunes, and the cool melody in “Where Is the Song?” will have you hooked (Dorough, still with us at 93, wrote the liner notes). The other cuts are varietals that add up to one balanced glass of jazzy cabaret wine: from a bouncy Andrews Sisters sound to note-bending fusion, O’Leary’s vocal arrangements are tight and adventurous (“More”).

Best of all, her seemingly boundless range and flavors give us one of the most refreshing covers of “It Might As Well Be Spring” I’ve ever heard: ornamental without being ostentatious, I wonder why more singers can’t reinvent the American songbook while keeping their distinction. While I long for lyrics with more bite on the original songs (8 out of 12 tracks), it’s also a brave and adventurous CD: The title cut is an atmospheric, reflective tune without any hooks, but let it wash over you and even the great Ellington may come to mind.

photos by Shervin Lainez and Kevin Alvey

Dream Ago
Gabrielle Stravelli
Big Modern Music
12 tracks | 52:28 minutes
release date: January 27, 2017
for more info and to order, visit Gabrielle Stravelli

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