The Gift

Susanne Abbuehl


Singer Susanne Abbuehl has a unique approach to setting verse, getting inside the texts, exploring their inner melodies and rhythms, setting them free to float and sway. The approach is beautifully realized on “The Gift”, recorded in the South of France in the summer of 2012. Poetry embraced on this occasion includes words by Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronté, Sara Teasdale, Wallace Stevens, and Susanne’s own lyrics. In the seven years that have elapsed since the release of “Compass”, Abbuehl’s band has been reorganized. Wolfert Brederode remains an important, central presence. New to the ensemble are Matthieu Michel, a highly intuitive musical partner since 2009, whose flugelhorn is a wonderful second voice here, and Olavi Louhivouri, whose sensitive drumming was previously heard on Tomasz Stanko’s “Dark Eyes”.

Die schweizerisch-niederländische Sängerin und Komponistin Susanne Abbuehl hat eine ganz eigene Art sich in Texte förmlich hineinzuleben, die ihnen innewohnenden Melodien und Rhythmen zu erkunden, und sie schließlich fließen und schwingen zu lassen. All diese Gaben kommen auf ihrem dritten ECM-Album „The Gift“ zu voller Blüte, das im Sommer 2012 in Südfrankreich aufgenommen wurde. Sie befasste sich bei dieser Aufnahme mit der Dichtung von Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronté, Sara Teasdale, Wallace Stevens, vertonte aber auch eigene Lyrik. In den sieben Jahren seit ihrem letzten Album “Compass“ hat sich in Abbuehls Band einiger personeller Wechsel vollzogen. Der niederländische Pianist Wolfert Brederode spielt weiter eine wichtige, zentrale Rolle. Neu im Ensemble sind seit 2009 Mattheu Michel, dessen Flügelhorn hier als eine Art zweiter Stimme agiert, und Olavi Louhivouri, dessen sensibles Schlagzeugspiel zuvor auf Tomasz Stankos „Dark Eyes“ zu hören war.
Featured Artists Recorded

July-August 2012, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes les Fontaines

Original Release Date


  • 1The Cloud
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Sara Teasdale)
  • 2This And My Heart
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 3If Bees Are Few
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 4My River Runs To You
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 5Ashore At Least
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 6Forbidden Fruit
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 7By Day, By Night
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Sara Teasdale)
  • 8A Slash Of Blue
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 9Wild Nights
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 10In My Room
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Wallace Stevens)
  • 11Bind Me
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 12Soon (Five Years Ago)
    (Wolfgang Lackerschmid, Susanne Abbuehl)
  • 13Fall, Leaves, Fall
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Brontë)
  • 14Sepal
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
  • 15Shadows On Shadows
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Brontë)
  • 16This And My Heart, var.
    (Susanne Abbuehl, Emily Dickinson)
In her albums of sung poetry, Susanne Abbuehl grants words room to move. For her, “setting verse” implies more than the pinning of a poem’s cadences to a fixed arrangement. On “The Gift”, as on the earlier recordings “April” and “Compass”, she insinuates herself inside the texts, explores their inner rhythms and their melodies and meanings, and sets them free to gently float and sway. The approach is beautifully realized on this third ECM album by the Swiss-Dutch singer, recorded in the South of France in the summer of 2012 with, perhaps, the most responsive band she has yet led. As with the earlier discs, Manfred Eicher produced the recording.

Poetry embraced on this occasion includes words by Emily Dickinson, Emily Brontë, Sara Teasdale, Wallace Stevens, and Susanne’s own lyrics. Where “Compass” was an album whose texts spoke of voyages, “The Gift” is more concerned with the pleasures of the harbour and the homestead, with understanding the richness and fecundity of one’s own territory through the changing seasons: “Futile – the Winds / To a Heart in port – / Done with the Compass / Done with the Chart!” – so sings Abbuehl, channeling Emily Dickinson’s spirit, on “Wild Nights”.

Dickinson (1830-1886), Emily Brontë (1818-1848), and Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) were all, by choice, temperament or circumstance, reclusive writers. But fixed location need not temper the flight of the imagination: a landscape or soundscape can be dreamt up, if necessary. Dickinson, again: “To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee / One clover, and a bee. /And revery. /And revery alone will do, / If bees are few”.

The idea of interpreting a world through selected signs recurs through the poems. “In My Room,” derives from Wallace Stevens’ poem “On the Surface of Things” (first published in 1919): “In my room, the world is beyond my understanding; / But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four hills and a cloud.” With a few broad brushstrokes, the Abbuehl group illuminates it...

Seven years have passed since the release of “Compass”. In the interim, work on the music has continued, and Abbuehl’s band has been reshaped. Wolfert Brederode remains a central presence in the line-up. The Dutch pianist has been a musical partner for two decades; Brederode and Abbuehl met while studying at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. The singer praises Brederode’s capacity for shaping music in the moment, for implementing ideas and developing them. In Abbuehl’s group, Brederode’s patient chords and subtle harmonies always serve the context, without a hint of self-display.

Swiss trumpet and flugelhorn player Matthieu Michel has been a highly intuitive musical partner since 2009. “We never talk about a direction. Everything arises out of the music, without any conceptualizing.” Matthieu Michel’s flugelhorn is often an evocative second lead voice here; sometimes flugelhorn and voice drift together in graceful unisons, as on “This And My Heart”…

The sensitive playing of Finnish drummer Olavi Louhivuori was previously heard on Tomasz Stanko’s “Dark Eyes” album. Susanne first worked with Louhivouri in Helsinki in 2007. “He has an affinity for the voice. In his playing he always finds new approaches, new colours, and his playing opens up the music as a whole.”

Where, on earlier discs, Abbuehl drew on the works of other jazz composers – including music of Chick Corea and Sun Ra on “Compass”, and Carla Bley and Thelonious Monk on “April” – the music of “The Gift” is written almost entirely by Abbuehl. The sole exception is “Soon (Five Years ago)”, with music by Wolfgang Lackerschmid and lyrics by Susanne.