Misha Steinhauer ‘Dreaming With Eyes Wide Awake’ (Private Press) 5/5

Michaela, or Misha, as she seems to prefer to be known is a native of Germany but currently lives in New York. She says of her chosen art-form “Music? It’s my life: give me a microphone, and I am where I belong.”Misha combines her own song-writing skills with a sprinkling of well-known jazz standards, but nothing seems to be off limits in terms of repertoire.

This album was recorded in Moscow and is ” a story of brokenness, depression and healing, of loneliness and learning to love and be loved.”

Here are eleven of Misha’s own compositions. The overall atmosphere is rather dark, low-key and contemplative. Although of German origin, it’s not easy to detect in Misha’s voice any trace of a Continental accent.

Hendrik Meurkens plays harmonica and vibraphone, Glauco P. Lima plays piano, Michal Jaros is on bass and Samuel Martinelle is behind the drums.

Much of the programme is taken up with ballads. However, ‘Hello, How Are You Doing?’ is rather more up-beat. I particularly enjoyed the more up-tempo reading of ‘Family Games’ with some nice bass-work from Jaros.

It is clear that Misha is a very skilled song-writer and lyricist. Although a new name to me, and I suspect to many readers, this is her seventh release. There is much to enjoy in this pleasantly varied set.

The opening track ‘Here Comes Autumn Again’ begins with harmonica setting the scene and sounds almost like a ‘standard’ song. The harmonica adds a kind of yearning to the performance.

‘No Cure’ follows and is a more up-tempo affair. ‘Where DO I Belong’ has more yearning harmonica. ‘Hello, How Are You Doing?’ features vibraphone in a variation of tone, and a slightly more funky rhythm. ‘She Wonders Why’ opens with atmospheric vibraphone. A song of sadness and of being unlucky in love.

‘Family Games’ opens with a lovely walking bass line and swings along very nicely.

‘Day and Night’ re-introduces the harmonica and is rather more up-beat than some of the earlier pieces.

‘The House is Quiet’ is much more contemplative and rather sad. The vibraphone is well to the fore once again on this one.

‘Dreaming With Eyes Wide Awake’ follows the formula set out in earlier selections, but is none the worse for that.

This is a concept album in that every song tells a story in the same way that Frank Sinatra’s album ‘The Night We Called It A Day’ did in the late 1950’s.

At times I’m reminded of the vocal delivery of Claire Martin. But more often, I’m led to think of Patricia Barber in the assured way in which Steinhauer approaches each song. In any event, this is a wonderful showcase for her writing. An album of quiet passion and power.

Alan Musson