The Passion and Precision of Poetry: Susanne Abbuehl, The Gift

By Daniel Garrett

Susanne Abbuehl, The Gift
Produced by Manfred Eicher
ECM, 2013

It is wonderful to have a singer who is eager for and equal to poetry; and Swiss-born classical and jazz musician Susanne Abbuehl has chosen the work of Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Sara Teasdale to interpret. On singer Susanne Abbuehl’s collection The Gift, which contains songs both elegant and eloquent, “The Cloud” has a beautifully measured tone, and a nature theme, with the narrator as cloud, witnessing stars, hill, sea, and other things. “Nothing can tame me, nothing can bind,” Abbuehl sings, from the Sara Teasdale poem. The flugelhorn produces an eerie effect, natural, old, strange. That flugelhorn is played by Matthieu Michel; and other musicians on The Gift include Wolfert Brederode on piano and harmonium, and Olavi Louhivuori on drums. “This and My Heart” has moderate uptempo rhythm, with a text by Emily Dickinson, exemplifying Dickinson’s customary weird simplicity: in isolation, one can perceive the foundations, the basic elements, of the world. Intimate, quiet, delicate is “If Bees Are Few.” There is a quality of sound that allows contemplation in beauty and peace. “My River Runs to You” reminds me a little of Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell, particularly of Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” Consistently thoughtful and spare but beautiful are “Ashore At Last,” “Forbidden Fruit,” By Day, By Night,” “A Slash of Blue,” “Wild Nights,” and “In My Room.” The words of Dickinson’s “Wild Nights” are those of spirit and sensuality: “Wild nights! – Wild nights! / Were I with thee/ Wild nights should be/ Our luxury!” The song “Bind Me” is a short affirmation of spirit and devotion, followed by “Soon (Five Years Ago)” and then “Fall, Leaves, Fall,” which is a unique evocation, welcoming autumn and winter, a perspective open to a bleak landscape. “Sepal” is next; and then “Shadows and Shadows,” which is both sung and spoken, the hushed singing giving way to simply spoken but crisp words. The last piece is “This and My Heart, var.” I imagine Susanne Abbuehl’s admirers will consider this, The Gift, a nice addition to her oeuvre: I Am Rose (1997), April (2000), and Compass (2006).

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.