Gabrielle Stravelli was one of only ten finalists selected internationally for the 2011 SHURE Montreux Jazz Festival Vocal Competition and she was also 1st runner-up in the 2009 Jazzmobile Vocal Competition in Harlem. In the ensuing years, she has received numerous awards, has toured the world over, opened for Cassandra Wilson and Esperanza Spalding, was in the European cast for “Hair”, toured with Wynton Marsalis as a member of the choir of his “Abyssinian Mass”, and the list goes on and on. Not bad – even for someone who started to sing professionally at the age of 15.
She opens her new CD with the Cole Porter classic “Dream Dancing”, in swingin’ fashion, displaying her wonderful chops and even including an overdubbed choir, with an alluring arrangement by bassist Pat O’Leary. She is off to a promising start here. Gabrielle also wrote or co-wrote as many as nine pieces on the album – also a good sign! The heavy swing continues with “Cake Of My Childhood”, complete with a scat solo (which I still don’t cherish) and a cool sax solo by Scott Robinson. The mood switches to a more relaxing mode with “Little Zochee”, written by O’Leary in 1985. I wish the Rhodes playing by David Cook would have been extended on this one plus Gabrielle’s chops are simply incredible and if I just had one complaint, there is this strange frequency in parts of her singing that sounds a bit odd to me on this particular tune.
She also recorded Bob Dorough‘s “Where Is The Song?”, one of those truly typical Dorough cuts; witty, intelligent, humorous, compelling. Gabrielle is pretty good with the ballads, too. On “If Only Love Was Blind”, there are fleeting moments of Helen Merill in her phrasing and the use of the celeste, played by Art Hirahara, only adds to the haunting mood here. Would fit perfectly on Broadway, as would “Didn’t You Tell Me”, another song with overdubbed vocals, harking back to the golden age of the vocal groups. And it swings like hell, too. Vocalist Kenny Washington joins her on “Bicycle Blues”, a little scat-and drum piece that doesn’t really resonate with me.
Her version of “It Might As Well Be Spring” is fresh and spruced-up, but in a hilariously non-conservative way. The mood changes to somber and melancholy again for the title track – a beautiful story that is enhanced again by almost musical theater-like qualities. There is more original material coming in the shape of “Prism”, full of joy and optimism and sincerity. Gabrielle sounds confident and easing on this one. “More” has more overdubbed vocals and is a sort of solo vehicle for her abilities and her artistry. “Now I Know”, the almost carnevalesque final song here, has some pretty soulful moments and is getting hilariously disturbing in the second half.