NOTES ON ‘GABRIELLE CAVASSA’
BY STEPHANIE JONES
Shimmering in its humanness, Gabrielle Cavassa documents a deeply personal moment of the singer- composer’s artistic development. Along with her writing, Cavassa’s mastery of song interpretation inside the studio relies on raw self-disclosure and layers of intimacy. In composing six of the album’s 10 titles, she’s created an external vessel for internal struggles, arranging each track in service of the entire recording’s colliding strength and frailty.
Releasing a debut during a global pandemic takes a measure of grit. But in a way, the uncertainty felt natural to Cavassa. Rather than tuck them away, she spotlights her insecurities. Leaving a number of tracks unresolved harmonically serves as subtle, powerful testament to her degree of comfort – or at least alignment – with ambiguity, with navigating the unknown. Themes of self-confrontation emerge not only in her lyrics but in Cavassa’s deft capturing of imperfection despite the album’s slick production.
That very boldness compelled Cavassa to walk away from a production contract, in favor of producing something terminally authentic. Hearing the record for the first time, I was struck by her ability to transform seemingly repetitive sections into extended moments of meditation, as she does on “Podcasts” and through devastating lament on “Oakland.” She and her fellow artists create waves of intensity that ebb and flow inside what become living breathing grooves.
I’ve heard critics label certain singers’ expressions as minimalist. Generally, that descriptor rings reductive to me. Rather than understated, Gabrielle Cavassa is stated, honestly. Her expression is deliberate. She’s so connected to the music and the moment, each decision – each spontaneous melody – emanates from some real, unfiltered response.
Track 1, and indeed the entire record, opens with her vocal, stark in its softness. “It Was Supposed To Be A Love Song” first measures reveal extreme intimacy in her writing. Opting to play Rhodes herself, Cavassa begins posing unanswerable questions, a theme that unfolds across the 34-minute album. Balancing somewhere in and out of time, she recorded the track in a single take without post-production fixes, preserving every crack in her crushed-velvet voice – even as she holds back tears.
The artists Cavassa tapped as collaborators reflect her desire to document something real in the digital age. Co-producer Jamison Ross’ commitment to preserving rawness within Cavassa’s artistry effervesces throughout the recording, as does Q Million’s sensitive handling of the album’s mixing. Intending for the album to be played on vinyl, she chose to record Gabrielle Cavassa to tape at New Orleans studio, The Parlor. The mode provides a warmth that stretches across the tracks and serves the raw honeyed sheen of her vocal.
At certain moments, her fellow artists create cradles for her spontaneity; at others, they engage in a kind of lyrical comping – always dealing in syncopated interactivity, particularly on “Inside My Arms” and “Vanity,” her duo feature with Lex Warshawsky. A quality of conviction in her phrasing helps ground lyrics that glimmer with empathy and painful yet playful reflection, as they do on “19th & Judah.” On Nelson Shawn’s “Jim,” Cavassa revels in moments of emotional undoing in the midst of restraint. Pianist Ryan Hanseler responds by swaddling, answering and enhancing her impulses as she stretches over the bar line.
Each of her collaborators – including guest artists Braxton Cook, Ari Teitel and Ashlin Parker – entirely embodies Cavassa’s voice and vision, honoring their individual expressions. Cook’s melodious lines that savor the changes – even when there are few – serve the velvet ribbons she weaves around sardonic wit. Sweetness of her phrasing pervades “To You My Love,” Cavassa’s tribute to Tami Lynn and New Orleans’ AFO Collective. Following Teitel’s rubato delivery, she wraps each lyric around a tender pulse.
I hope anyone who encounter’s Gabrielle Cavassa feels, as I have felt, her frankness and compassion resonating beyond lyrics and phrasing, possessing every gesture – fluid or fragmented – of her scripted and spontaneous expression. Enjoy the music.
– Stephanie Jones
Stephanie Jones is a features writer for DownBeat magazine, Hot House Jazz Guide and JazzSpeaks
To everybody who pre-ordered, donated to, and supported this project from the beginning, middle, and end — I am in awe of the love you have shown me. You made this possible and I thank you with my whole heart!!!! ❤️
SPECIAL THANK YOU to Jamison, Ryan, Lex, Braxton, Ashlin, Ari, Mack, Q, Trevor, Wes, Reggie, Stephanie, Camille, Connor, Nana, Papa, & Mom.
— Gabrielle Cavassa