Review: Nicky Schrire at the Forge

Nicky Schrire. Photo credit: Geoff Shar
(The Forge, Camden, 5th October 2012. Review by Alison Bentley)

‘Freedom Flight’ is singer Nicky Schrire ‘s debut album and on this gig the young singer was stretching her wings, literally flying across the world to collaborate with her musical heroes. She grew up in South Africa and now lives in New York after studying there; her vocal style is influenced by European jazz singers. The sound is high, clear, accurate, very natural and vibrato-free, at times like Norma Winstone or even singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.

Her arrangements of standards were imaginative, sometimes with unexpectedly dark modal chords. Pianist Nikki Iles was the perfect, sensitive ‘collaborator’ to bring out these nuances, and The End of a Love Affair had her playing gorgeous Bill Evans-ish voicings and sparkling chromaticisms. If Ever I Should Leave You and Someone to Watch Over Me showed the more delicate, fragile side of Schrire’s voice, which sounded as if it might crack with emotion in these very slow ballads, but never did. The voice was daringly exposed in these minimal arrangements.

Schrire loves collaborating with other musicians. London singer Anita Wardell is one of Schrire’s ‘mentors’, and she was waiting in the wings to duet on In a Mellow Tone. Both have an amazing creative energy, and Wardell’s acrobatic boppy scat singing brought out different elements in Schrire’s own improvising.

Schrire sang Norma Winstone’s atmospheric lyrics written to a lovely tune from Nikki Iles’ In All My Holy Mountain suite. And then, like a scene from a Hollywood movie, Norma Winstone herself appeared on stage to sing Make Someone Happy in duet with Nicky. This clearly made Nicky (and the audience) very happy indeed- to be singing with someone she revered, and whose style has been such a major influence.

Schrire is an imaginative and talented arranger of others’ songs: Loudon Wainwright III’s Swimming Song had a folky vocal quality, full of life and fun, unlike the original’s deadpan nostalgia. Duetting with the superb Dave Hamblett‘s drums, she opened with Maria Pia de Vito-style breathy percussive sounds. I imagined what de Vito might have done with live looped harmonies on this, reproducing the rich vocal layers from Schrire’s CD version. Although Schrire doesn’t see herself as a specifically South African vocalist, her version of Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s Yakhal ‘Inkomo (sung in Xhosa with quotes from the S. African national anthem) was wonderful, with its loose rootsy feel and huge vocal leaps.

Best of all is Nicky Schrire the vocal instrumentalist- this is where the voice really soars in its ‘freedom flight’. Many of her arrangements have beautiful repeated vocal riffs, such as the one behind the creative drum solo at the end of E Preciso Perdoar. Her version of Bobby McFerrin’s a capella Blackbird was a triumph, hinting at basslines and arpeggios while simultaneously singing the melody. Bassist Ryan Trebilcock played throughout the gig with subtlety and strength, and his tone was particularly rich in Schrire’s wordless opening to McFerrin’s Invocation. She sang amazing wordless whoops and swoops, pure, then breathy-toned. Her own compositions have plenty of space for these vocal experiments, both composed and improvised. The lyric to her song Journey sums up her adventurous musical spirit: ‘Even if I fall down, even when I stand up, still my destination stays in sight.’

Here is a talented singer who’s also a serious musician, very committed to her art, never afraid to try out something new in her own irrepressible style.

Categories: miscellaneous

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