Malibu Musician gives scorching performance to launch album

Pictured left to right: Mike Saucier, Susan Gabriel, Alex Acuna and Michael Shields at the Catalina Bar and Grill May 4. The group performed excerpts from Gabriel's "Burning Into You," her third album. Michelle Salzman / TMT

The Malibu resident also has a one-woman musical tentatively scheduled for a debut in New York this fall.

By Michelle Salzman/Special to The Malibu Times

An intimate crowd gathered at the Catalina Bar and Grill last week for the CD release party of “Burning Into You” by singer-songwriter Susan Gabriel. “Burning Into You,” Gabriel’s third album, marks a departure from her previous releases.

“The other CDs that I’ve done have always been rather mellow,” Gabriel said.

Her energy and talent on stage the evening of May 4 attested to the lively spirit of her current recording. Her band for the evening was made up of talented musicians as well. Michael Shields, Gabriel’s “Burning Into You” collaborator, played guitar along with guitarist Ramon Stagnaro, and Alex Acuna of Weather Report played percussion, Otmaro Ruiz was on the piano, and Mike Saucier performed on bass.

Gabriel performed original songs from “Burning Into You” in addition to various jazz standards. Excerpts from her one-woman musical, “I Am Here,” tentatively scheduled for its debut in New York this fall, punctuated her set. Tony Award-winning producer Michael Frazier, associated with the New York project, flew out especially for the performance last week, and to present Gabriel at the night’s event. Underscored with intelligent humor, Gabriel’s monologues explore themes of union and reunion, walking the audience through her major life events and more importantly, her spiritual evolution.

“My story is only there because that’s the ultimate story that I know,” she explained, “but it’s a way to laugh at myself, to share the gift of an awareness that I’ve been given for having gone through what my life has presented me with.”

Jazz, blues, and passionate vocals set the style for the evening’s performance. Beginning with the jazzy, upbeat performance of “Night ‘N Day,” Gabriel guided the audience through a full range of emotions with a haunting performance of “Burning Into You” and smoldering vocals on “Embraceable You.” A highlight of the evening was during Gabriel’s performance of “You Came to Me.” Sparks flew as Gabriel played the flute against Acuna’s soulful percussion improvisation.

Gabriel grew up on the East Coast, living in Larchmont, New York and Wilton, Connecticut. She moved to the Midwest after her father’s death, beginning a promising career as a television news journalist and eventually moved back to New York where she worked for CNN. In 1993, Gabriel moved to Malibu.

“I love Point Dume because it’s a reprieve from the harshness of the city life of New York,” she said.

Gabriel is an all-around creative talent. She is accomplished vocally, as well as on the flute and piano. She will also play any other instrument she can get her hands on. “I can’t take my hands off of musical instruments. Give me a spoon!” she exclaimed.

She has also written a book “I Am Here,” which evolved into the one-woman musical.

Grace Slick, former lead singer of the legendary rock bands Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, summed up Gabriel’s talents when she introduced her at the Catalina Bar and Grill. “Susan has so much talent it’s nauseating,” she said sending the audience into laughter. Slick, a friend of Gabriel’s, created the cover art for “Burning Into You.”

“Burning Into You” also marks the beginning of IAH Productions, Inc. a company Gabriel recently launched featuring products that emphasize high content without having to sacrifice quality. “It has a good business sense, it’s very grounded, but it also has a compelling message,” she said.

Endorsed by Chilmark Entertainment Group, IAH Productions incorporates the associated talent of songwriter/screenwriter Michael Shields, Cine Award winner Val Cigler, Laurie Marks, former Director of A&R Administration for BMG/RCA, and former MTV VJ/actor China Kantner.

“The company began really with the show ‘I Am Here,'” Gabriel explained. “It generated interest of a lot of award-winning talent who are associating with the project to help move it ahead.”

Gabriel further explained that not only has the company produced the musical, but also the CD, along with a catalogue of “hundreds of songs,” and is working on concepts for television shows and feature film projects.

“But there is a consistency,” she said. “We offer music with all the TV shows, we offer music with all the feature films. We also offer a full musical arts education curriculum and have a phenomenal marketing strategy. And no product is like the other. Like the CD stands on its own, the show stands on its own. And each one feeds the next aspect if it’s available.”

“Burning Into You” is the first official release from IAH Productions making the show at the Catalina Bar and Grill particularly special. Of the May 4 performance, Gabriel said, “I was absolutely thrilled. It was the best show we’ve done.”

“Burning Into You” is available at Tower Records in Hollywood and Marina Del Rey with more locations to be added, and locally at Zuma Beach General Store.