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Dida Pelled: Telling Stories And Serving Songs

Dan Bilawsky By

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[I wanted] to pick my favorite songs and try to make them sound the way I imagine them. Not looking at specific genres, but just doing what’s best for the songs.”
When it comes to music, Dida Pelled doesn't discriminate. This young guitarist-vocalist—a doe-eyed ingénue in appearance, a mature artist in reality—has proven to be an inimitable double-threat who's more concerned with serving a song and doing justice to the music than fitting into a neat little stylistic box. She's equally comfortable playing straight-up jazz at Smalls in Greenwich Village, interpreting pop, jazz, and/or country classics at intimate Manhattan spots like Lelabar or Antibes Bistro, writing her own tuneful material, or joining the Diva Jazz Orchestra for a program of Johnny Mandel tunes at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola.

In 2009, at twenty-one years of age, Pelled moved to New York from her native Israel, and she quickly made her presence known. She attracted the attention of trumpeter Fabio Morgera, who helped to broker her first record deal. He went on to produce Pelled's Plays And Sings (Red Records, 2010)—a debut that focused mostly on standards and songbook favorites, painting Pelled as a cultivated, in-the-tradition guitarist and a one-of-a-kind vocalist, capable of instantly capturing the ear's attention with her dreamy cooing and wooing. For that outing, she teamed up with bassist Tal Ronen, a close friend and musical ally, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, an A-list jazz drummer if ever there was one. Morgera and trumpeter Roy Hargrove sweetened the deal, each making notable guest appearances and complementing the work of the core trio. But it was Pelled, not the bigger names, who made the biggest impression. She worked her way through gems like Horace Silver's "Calcutta Cutie," Wes Montgomery's "Fried Pies," and George and Ira Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here To Stay" like a seasoned jazz veteran with nothing to prove and lots to offer. Her sophomore release—Modern Love Songs (Self Produced, 2015)—turned out to be something altogether different. It's a concise collection of music that focuses on her singer-songwriter side and pruning skills, with spare readings of songs from the likes of Randy Newman and Willie Nelson mixed in with original material, a rechristened version of Blossom Dearie's namesake blues—now called "Dida's Blues"—and Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Very Well Without You (Except Sometimes)."

Both records speak directly to Pelled's musical interests and influences, yet she readily acknowledges the differences in the way they each present themselves and in the way they came into being: her debut was quickly assembled when an opportunity arose and the follow-up slowly took shape over a long period of time as a DIY labor of love. "[For Plays And Sings], it was one day in the studio, one day of mixing, and that was it," she notes. With Modern Love Songs, it was much different, as the album grew out of Pelled's experiences playing gigs over the course of several years after Plays And Sings was released. "I played a lot with [bassist] Tal Ronen," she remarks, "and together, we continued playing standards like you can hear on the debut album. But we also combined that type of material with some of our other [musical] influences, bringing both to our gigs. We started playing Bob Dylan songs, and Nirvana covers, and whatever else we felt like playing. We just kept learning songs, trying them out, and putting our own little spin on them." In addition, Pelled and Ronen started writing some songs, both individually and as a team, and mixing them into the sets at their gigs. They built up an impressive and diverse repertoire that would ultimately feed into Modern Love Songs, an album that, in contrast to her debut, took a year-and-a-half to make from start to finish.

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