Nicky Schrire Quietly and Captivatingly Explores Space & Time
Singer Nicky Schrire looks sooo sad on the cover of her new album Space & Time, but the songs on it are a lot more emotionally diverse. Like Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens (or Dory Previn in a previous era), Schrire blurs the line between jazz, rock and folk in a series of duo performances with a trio of pianists: Gil Goldstein, Gerald Clayton and Fabian Almazan. Schrire hails from South Africa, with a charming lilt to her nuanced, unadorned mezzo-soprano. As you would expect from a piano/voice duo project, the performances here are on the quiet side, over slow tempos, although there are numerous animated moments. A terse mix of original compositions and diverse cover versions, it makes an enjoyable, subtle change of pace from the onslaught of high-voltage vocal jazz. Schrire’s m.o. is not to blow anyone away with how hard she can wail but to illuminate the songs’ dusky corners, varying her approach nimbly depending on the lyric.
She opens the album with a misty, spacious take of You’re Nobody Til Somebody Love You, a song that was forever eclipsed long ago by Biggie Smalls’ You’re Nobody Til Somebody Kills You. So her minimalist, disarmingly vulnerable take of I Wish You Love is a welcome revelation; it merits comparison to the Jenifer Jackson version. An original, A Song for a Simple Tune has Almazan having fun with the leaping melody. Schrire opens Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me a-cappella, fetching and powerfully plaintive; Goldstein picks it up, steady and starlit as Schrire takes it out with lush vocalese.
Teardrop blends hints of Radiohead and Britfolk over steady, crescendoing, neoromantic Almazan block chords, followed by Bless the Telephone, a mutedly opaque but warmly Beatlesque ballad with Clayton on piano. An original, And So I Sing, has Schrire’s judicious melismas maintaning a gently steely hold over Almazan’s brooding pedal motives, through a deftly arranged web of overdubbed vocalese as it crescendos out.
Seliyana works a rather hypnotic, syncopated trip-hop rhythm, Schrire’s neosoul allusions over blues-tinted, dancing Goldstein piano. Schrire’s When You Go is the most low-key of all the tracks, a slow ballad where she and Clayton methodically fill in and color the many spaces left by the other. Schrire opens Irviing Berlin’s Say It Isn’t So a-cappella, setting a tone of persistent unease which Almazan joins and maintains, hypnotically.
Jazz covers of Beatles tunes tend to be fussy and futile, but by changing the chorus of Here Comes the Sun abruptly from major to minor, Schrire adds some welcome contrasting cloudiness, building to a big crescendo of contrapuntal harmony. She closes with the title track, an original, Goldstein’s wintry, rubato piano a good fit with Schrire’s moody, vintage 60s Doris Fisher-inflected melody. Schrire leads her group at the Cornelia St. Cafe on Nov 26 at 8:30 PM.
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