271

Susanne Abbuehl: Compass

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Susanne Abbuehl: Compass Anyone fortunate enough to have heard Susanne Abbuehl's out-of-print first record, I Am Rose (Evoke, 1997), knows that while the singer's musical direction was already developing, it was not until her 2001 ECM debut, April, that it became fully realized. Compass is a logical evolution, but it manages a few surprises, finding Abbuehl and her unorthodox trio becoming even more integrated, intuitive and introspective.

Abbuehl continues to defy convention. In contrast to jazz singers who search for new ways to portray an overworked Great American Songbook, she has chosen a different path. Alongside her own writings are adaptations of poetry by writers like James Joyce and William Carlos Williams, set to music from artists as diverse as Chick Corea and Sun Ra. All too many singers approach their material with overbearing melisma; Abbuehl's delivery remains so understated that it takes time to fully appreciate the finer nuances that are the trademark of her deeply interpretive approach.

Additionally, Abbuehl shapes her music with a trio that may be unusual in its makeup but, with its clear allegiance to space as an equal component, creates a compelling orchestration for her pure and nearly vibrato-less voice. Newcomer Lucas Niggli's textural approach to percussion—with the rare exception of songs like "Sea, Sea!," there's rarely a pulse to be found—meshes perfectly with longtime musical collaborators Wolfert Brederode (piano) and Christof May (clarinets).

Though it's hard to believe such a thing would be possible, Compass is even more rarefied than April. Abbuehl's take on Sun Ra's "A Call for All Demons" is an abstruse mix of staccato low notes on piano, gentle but clangy percussion, and a bass clarinet that seems to shadow her every move—a far cry from Ra's more extroverted approach on Sun Song (Delmark, 1956).

On the traditional "Black is the Color" and "Lo Fiolairé"—both based on Luciano Berio's "Folk Songs"—Abbuehl is accompanied solely by May and guest clarinetist Michel Portal. The fact that two clarinets can blend together to create such a warm foundation for Abbuehl's delicate and vulnerable delivery is just as remarkable as the blurred line they draw between form and freedom.

While improvisation is a clear aspect of the music, Brederode, May and Niggli mesh so seamlessly that the melancholy pedal tone of the ever-so-slightly bluesy "Where Flamingos Fly" feels both spontaneous and clearly conceptualized at the same time. May's tone is soft and often remains in a lower register that perfectly complements Abbuehl's range, while Brederode's sparse approach often suggests more than it explicitly states.

But at the end of the day, it's Abbuehl's ability to express the beauty or bittersweet of a lyric with the slightest turn of phrase that makes Compass so rewarding. It takes a good singer to get to the core of a song; it takes a great one to do it so in a way that puts the song first and ego second. Dark, mysterious and sensual in the most insidious of ways, the appeal of Compass is its breadth of emotion, beautifully delivered without a trace of excess.

Visit Universal Classics on the web.


Track Listing: Bathyal; Black Is The Colour; Where Flamingos Fly; Lo Fiolaire; Sea, Sea!; Don't Set Sail; The Twilight Turns From Amethyst; Primrose; Bright Cap And Streamers; A Call For All Demons; Children's Song #1; In The Dark Pine-Wood.

Personnel: Susanne Abbuehl: vocals; Wolfert Brederode: piano, harmonium; Christof May: clarinet; Lucas Niggli: percussion; Michel Portal: clarinet (2,4).

Title: Compass | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ECM Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Extended Analysis
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles

More Articles

Read Honey And Salt CD/LP/Track Review Honey And Salt
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 22, 2017
Read To the Bone CD/LP/Track Review To the Bone
by Geno Thackara
Published: August 22, 2017
Read Flesh & Bone CD/LP/Track Review Flesh & Bone
by Troy Collins
Published: August 22, 2017
Read Generations CD/LP/Track Review Generations
by Jerome Wilson
Published: August 22, 2017
Read 90 Going On Amazing CD/LP/Track Review 90 Going On Amazing
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 21, 2017
Read Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter CD/LP/Track Review Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: August 21, 2017
Read "The Better Angels of Our Nature" CD/LP/Track Review The Better Angels of Our Nature
by Karl Ackermann
Published: July 20, 2017
Read "Streams" CD/LP/Track Review Streams
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 17, 2016
Read "Is It Me...?" CD/LP/Track Review Is It Me...?
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 7, 2017
Read "Live At The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival" CD/LP/Track Review Live At The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival
by Troy Dostert
Published: January 3, 2017
Read "Two Hands, One Heart" CD/LP/Track Review Two Hands, One Heart
by Roger Farbey
Published: February 8, 2017

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.