Although local favorite Gove County String Quartet was at its best, it was collaborator Anna Abbey whose sultry vocals stole the show last weekend at The Piano Kitchen. Performing for a packed crowd of about 40 people, Abbey and Gove County played seven tunes, which ranged from ’20s classics to contemporary arrangements.
A gem in the local music scene, The Piano Kitchen—which serves as Gove bassist Jim Connolly’s workspace by day and performance venue by evening—is renowned for its unusual décor of bookshelves, musical instruments, and large paintings of fluffy white clouds. On Saturday night, the quirky venue set the stage for Gove’s fresh and unconventional song choices.
Featuring Abbey, Connolly, UCSB-bound viola player Seth Noorzad, and violinists Sally Barr and Laura Hackstein, the group opened with “Eyes,” a slow and stirring piece by former Santa Barbara singer-songwriter Ellen Turner. After lifting the audience’s spirits with Charlie Chaplin’s upbeat “Smile,” the musicians hit the highlight of the night with a mash-up of Disney’s “I’m Wishing” and Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love.” Switching deftly from the sweetness of the Snow White tune to the intensity of the Bjork piece, Abbey left the audience spellbound, ending the song with a haunting refrain.
Gove County put its unique spin on Tim Buckley’s classic “Hi Lily” and Louis Armstrong’s cheery “When You’re Smiling” before debuting two new arrangements of Nick Drake’s mournful “Riverman” and fast-paced ’20s hit “If I Had You” in a stirring finale.
After a short intermission, a duo consisting of New York-based vibes player Tyler Blanton and Los Angeles pianist Josh Nelson replaced the quartet on the stage and played seven improvisational pieces before the night was done.
Playing both well-known tunes and original compositions, the duo wowed the audience with their playful back-and-forth improvisation. After opening with a mix of jazz classic “On Green Dolphin Street,” they performed Blanton’s lively “Botanic” and Nelson’s New York ode “Griffin Park Promenade.” The duo hit a high note with a medley of “Young and Foolish” and “The More I See You,” two ’40s show tunes that they “took liberties with” in switching between mournful harmonies to dizzyingly fast-paced riffs.
In the duo’s final piece of the night, Blanton turned his drumstick around to play with the wooden edge of the stick, earning a round of cheers from the audience.
After the show came to a close, both the quartet and the piano duo raved about the venue. Abbey—who is working with the quartet on a new CD to be released late this fall—praised The Piano Kitchen for its “intimate and casual” atmosphere. “It feels great getting in here,” she said.
But Nelson had eyes only for the cloud paintings on the wall. “It feels like you’re floating,” he mused. “You look up and you’re transported to another place, you know?”