...a work of inspired, quiet joy...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
Taking her cue from the stripped down romanticism of the likes of Paul Bley, Jimmy Giuffreand Annette Peacock, Swiss born singer Susanne Abbuehl's debut for ECM is a work of inspired, quiet joy. Abbuehl studied with the late Jeanne Lee, and though there are echoes of Lee here (particularly the more introspective moments of her collaborations with Archie Shepp), Abbuehl's is a singular talent.
Backed by piano, clarinet and drums, the closest reference is probably Jimmy Guiffre's early 60s trio recordings (in themselves a formative influence in shaping the ECM aesthetic), and Abbuehl's adaptions of Carla Bley's spare, angular ballads 'Ida Lupino' and 'Closer' make the connection explicit. 'Ida Lupino' is especially lovely; Abbuehl's impressionistic wordplay meshes with Bley's lucid, simple melody perfectly, giving way to a limpid, expressive solo from pianist Wolfert Breorode. Abbuehl's own writing is equally strong; the opening "Yes is a Pleasant Country" (a settting of e.e.cummings) is simply gorgeous; nothing extraneous, every note placed with unforced precision over plangent piano chording.
A surprising inclusion is Bley's A.I.R (originally a vehicle for Don Cherry, from Escalator Over The Hill). Here Samuel Rohrer's tuned drums provide bass ostinato as Abbuel and clarinettist Christof May negotiate the snaking melody. Abbuehl's singing relies on texture for expression rather than melodic embellishment; she obviously delights in the poetry of the lyric, hence her interest in cummings and Robert Creeley.
When she does embark on improvisational flights (as on "skies may be blue, yes") influences from Indian vocal tradition leak in but seem to be part of her aesthetic rather than tacked on exotica. Indeed the closing "Mane Na" is an arrangement of a Hindustani tune; it's fine enough, but doesn't measure up to much of the rest of the record. I'm not sure how much the world needs another version of "Round Midnight" either; here Abbuehl sounds a bit uncomfortable with the mundane jazz cliches of the lyric, but elsewhere proves herself to be a singer of great emotional depth and clarity. Sublime.