Nicky Schrire – To the Spring
(From nickyschrire.com . CD/EP Review by Matthew Wright )
To the Spring is New York-based singer and composer Nicky Schrire’s third release, and the first comprising all originals. It heralds a voice and lyrical ability of great originality.
There are six new songs here: lyrically sophisticated, figuratively dense and allusive pieces drawing in various ways on the concept of the spring as lovers’ muse and inspiration. Not that the influence of spring has proved efficacious: the predominant tone is of melancholy and loss, sometimes wistful, and sometimes with a bitter edge. Pianist Fabian Almazan and bassist Desmond White provide skilfully spare, tastefully sketched harmony that support the melody and lyrics. It’s as much about what isn’t there as what is, and it leaves centre stage for Schrire’s voice, one of the stars of the disc.
The lower end of her register conveys a mood of resilient, steely resolve, as she spits the words out with the precise articulation of a paring knife. Meaning matters in Schrire’s songs – not something that applies to every jazz vocalist, it must be said – and the pain with which lines like “The road’s a pleasing mistress/ her highs, her lows your drug…” (from opening song Traveler, a brief but devastating account of a relationship separated by a performing tour) are imbued is intense and almost tangible. Even more remarkable is this register’s upper counterpart, which seems to soar and soar with no upper limit, its delicate, translucent tone becoming ever more gossamer as it rises, kite-like, into the clouds.
However, we already knew Schrire could sing, and that Almazan and White could play. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of this EP is the quality of the lyrics, which pack a compelling back story into a very short space, which then unfolds with great dramatic skill during the song, and resonates with the listener for some time afterwards. Some critics have detected a folk influence, and there is, perhaps, a bucolic innocence about the way Schrire sings vulnerability that’s more folk than jazz. But the narrative weight of these songs suggests the biggest (and in some ways more exciting) stylistic affinity is with musical theatre.
For London listeners, the concept of innovative new pieces of musical theatre is, perhaps, an alien concept, given the ever more bloated series of rock and TV spinoffs that monopolise the London scene, but for a New York audience the similarities with many an off-Broadway piece will surely resonate. I was reminded of works like Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (the story of a failed marriage told alternately from each partner’s point of view, and with one story narrated chronologically back to front), which also marries dense and potent lyrics and a story soaked in hurt and yearning with some tricksy rhythms and bleak melody.
At only half an hour, this counts as an EP rather than a full-length album. Schrire seems to be dipping her toe in the water of original song-writing. With such narrative and musical gifts at her disposal, we can only hope she takes the plunge with a larger scale work next time.
Nicky Schrire’s previous CD Space and Time was reviewed HERE