With "Dream Ago," Gabrielle Stravelli is Ready for her Close-Up

Here she is, world – here’s Gabrielle Stravelli.

Ever since she began singing with orchestras at 15, New York audiences have been enchanted by the jazz stylings and sheer power of a vocalist who channels icons like Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler and Janis Siegel, but like all great singers crafts a sound all her own. Gabrielle Stravelli has wowed fans at jazz and cabaret hotspots across the Big Apple, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Feinstein’s/54 Below, Birdland, the Metropolitan Room and Subculture. As the Village Voice put it, she’s “hotter than the equator.”

But the music business is fickle, and Stravelli has yet to attract a national following that would give her a bigger, richly-deserved profile. Now, she’s poised to take that step with “Dream Ago,” her newly-released CD on the Big Modern Music label. It’s a breakthrough recording, serving up a dazzling melange of the seductive, sophisticated vocals that have long been her hallmark. As Stravelli begins a national tour later this month, bringing her to Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago and San Francisco, her talent will be on full display to audiences who have never seen her before.

On “Dream Ago,” her third CD, she’s backed by a seasoned ensemble including Art Hirahara on piano, producer David Cook on Fender Rhodes and piano, Pat O’Leary on bass, Eric Halvorson on drums and Saul Rubin on guitar, with guest appearances by Grammy Award winner Scott Robinson on reeds and brass and Kenny Washington on vocals. The CD includes two standards – Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might as Well Be Spring” -- and they quickly establish Stravelli as an artist who offers fresh insights into standards that you’d think by now would defy reinterpretation. But the album’s ten other songs are the main attraction. Stravelli had a hand in writing, or contributing to all of them, along with O’Leary and lyricist Jason Robinson – and it is here that her musical gifts truly shine.

She penned “Dream Ago,” a heartbreakingly beautiful song about love and loss, to mark the sudden death of her father ten years ago. Sung with a spare and haunting piano accompaniment, it sounds like a Great American Songbook classic that you’re hearing for the first time. “Where is the Song” by Bob Dorough was originally written for vocalist Diana Krall, but when she passed, choosing to record his “Devil May Care” instead, Stravelli became the first artist to record it besides the composer. It’s one of the album’s highlights – a restless, brooding number with a long, twisting melody line that also sounds like an instant classic. “Didn’t You Tell Me” is an upbeat highlight, turning what initially seems to be a traditional tune about a jilted lover into a woman’s swinging affirmation that she’s left a jerk behind. Driven by four-part harmony and wickedly clever wordplay, Stravelli creates something wholly original -- with respectful nods along the way to the Andrew Sisters and Midler.

There’s not a weak song in the lot: “Prism” is a powerful vocal showcase that also features the sensual brass tones of Robinson, a National Endowment for the Arts fellow who performed with Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and other jazz greats. “More” was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s eloquent and insightful songs about women and the music business, and what Stravelli calls “a chorus of Joni’s in the background of her tunes – many voices stacked with her unmistakable vibrato.”

“Dream Ago” offers a bracing studio version of the magic that graces Stravelli’s live shows, and it’s well worth a listen. But don’t just take my word for it. This is one artist who gets heavy praise from her peers:

“The first thing you notice about Gabrielle Stravelli is her voice,” says Kurt Elling, Grammy Award-winning vocalist and songwriter. “The instrument is rich and resonant, flexible and precise, soulful and clean.” Fred Hersch, a nine-time Grammy Award-nominated pianist and composer adds that “Gabrielle Stravelli is, quite simply, the best singer you may never have heard of. She has the whole package: a fantastic instrument, great time, superb musicianship, perfect diction – and most importantly, she sings everything with a true depth of feeling.”

In his review of a recent performance, Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote that Stravelli’s vocal dexterity “recalled Ella Fitzgerald in her prime.” Jim Caruso, the savvy and insightful emcee of Birdland’s “Cast Party” open mic night in Manhattan, says: “For my money, Gabrielle Stravelli is one of the most impressive jazz singers in town.”

In sum, “Dream Ago” is one of the finer jazz albums you’ll hear this year. And if you have a chance to catch Stravelli on her national tour beginning this month, don’t miss it. As Jonathan Schwartz, the dean of Great American Songbook broadcasters puts it: “She’s the real deal.”

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