By Eric J. Grimm
In the cramped basement performance space of the Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village, plastic wine glasses are spilling, the woman next to me is complaining about the lights, the noise, and how close the tables are, and then Gabrielle Stravelli strides in and smiles. She’s one of the smiliest performers you’ll ever see; she seems so happy to be on stage doing what she loves. She could sell herself on that genuine smile alone but she also has a tremendous voice that has become more dynamic in the two years since I first saw her perform at Metropolitan Room. The performance at Cornelia Street Cafe on July 11th was in support of a lovely new live album she recorded with pianist Michael Kanan. Stairway to the Stars boasts mostly lesser-known tunes from the Great American Songbook and its major composers. The CD release show featured two expert jazz performers beautifully blending their talents
Stravelli and Kanan benefit from a mutual appreciation of standards, performing lovely, if safe, renditions of familiar tunes like “Isn’t It Romantic” and the title track. It risks being a snoozy affair, but Stravelli is a remarkably expressive performer and Kanan rightfully lets her shine throughout. Where the live performance excels is in the numbers that show a personal connection. A particularly touching and funny moment comes when Stravelli sings “So Rare,” by Herst and Sharpe. She confesses that she put off singing the song for years despite her mother’s attachment to it, having danced to it at her wedding. Stravelli confesses she had felt the lyrics to be corny but had come to think of them as vintage. They’re both, but she performs the song so earnestly that it would be cynical to pick apart the goofier lines in the song.
Stravelli takes time to display her impressive range on most of the numbers. She can hit high notes with the best of them but she really shows the depth of her engagement with the material by exploring her lower register and ending many songs with a low, cooled vibrato that sets her apart from performers who engage in more obvious vocal acrobatics. Her sharp instincts as a performer shine in a duo of mournful ballads, “Autumn Nocturne” and “I Don’t Know Where to Turn.” Her voice becomes movingly chilly in contrast to her more spritely takes on snappier tunes. Most impressively, she still manages to incorporate her amazing smile in the live performance, though this time it is played to fully convincing tragic effect. Her range in all aspects of performance coupled with Kanan’s support in mining the standards for rich and underutilized gems, make Stravelli the kind of unceasingly exciting performer New York deserves.
Stairway to the Stars is available on digital platforms and CD. To purchase on iTunes, visit
Upcoming: Gabrielle and Michael will perform at Mezzrow (www.mezzrow.comon August 26 at from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM –