Susanne Abbuehl

The Gift

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

On her third offering for ECM, her first in six years, vocalist/composer Susanne Abbuehl utilizes the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte, Sara Teasdale, and Wallace Stevens to explore solitude as it embraces desire, and the mysteries of nature. Though she has employed poetry as source material before, it has never been to this extent. Here, she has written the music for all selections but one, Wolfgang Lackerschmid's "Soon (Five Years Ago)," for which she provided lyrics. Backed by her longstanding pianist Wolfert Brederode, flügelhornist Matthieu Michel, and drummer/percussionist Olavi Louhivuori, Abbuehl moves inside the natural and sometimes angular rhymes of her sources, inhabits their rhythms, and delivers them as tender yet authoritative songs. Her restrained, refined approach not only carries their more subtle meanings across, but reveals their considerable power. (Check the brooding, hungry tension in Teasdale's "The Cloud.") Abbuehl uses Dickinson's poems most of all. The writer may be regarded as a mysterious, solitary, even tragic being, but the singer also unmasks just how many worlds -- even observed from the confines of a room -- her poet's imagination reached. On both versions of "This and My Heart," the singer makes the firmament respond to her offering: "It's all I have to bring today...This, and my heart, and all the fields/And all the meadows wide...." Michel's horn emphasizes Abbuehl's delivery as his smoky lines travel, fluttering, skittering, and intoning through a labyrinth; Louhivuori dances around the kit as a conduit for them, and Brederode becomes the respondent universe. Desire is a motivational force in many of these poems; from the earthiness of discovery in Dickinson's "Forbidden Fruit" and its ethereal projection in her "Wild Nights," to its certain spiritual and carnal expression in Teasdale's "By Day, by Night," to the unfettered wildness in Bronte's "Shadows on Shadows." Even in Stevens' "In My Room," solitude is the place where desire not only wants inherently what it wants immediately, but where its language provides it form to observe and project: "From my balcony, I survey the yellow air/Reading where I have written/The spring is like a belle undressing...." (Abbuehl offers a ghostly trace of the Beach Boys' tune of the same name in her refrain, not as humor but as an empathic device.) Throughout The Gift, Abbuehl's music and phrasing are strikingly intuitive and wholly artful; they transcend genre barriers. Her band's articulation of these compositions and the illumination they provide her voice are nearly symbiotic in their support; they create dimension and layered textures that add shades of meaning under her delivery. The Gift offers delight, tension, longing, and an opportunity to hear where written and sung speech are mirror images in the heart of language itself.

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