Had I seen her web site beforehandpromoting her as a "singer, actress, host, model"I might actually have been less inclined to buy this album.
Performers who make a living based on looks as well as vocal talent are often lacking in one or both categories, but Nicole Henry proves she's capable of both. The Nearness Of You, her first full-length jazz album, certainly qualifies as a swinging album of standards, but probably lacks the distinctiveness necessary to get the South Florida resident much notice beyond the regional scene.
Henry possess a strong middle-range voice and a sensible lyrical sense that finds her adding a nice amount of spice to familiar tunes without venturing into extreme regions where anyone of less than absolute top-echelon talent usually gets unpleasantly exposed.
The opening "Summertime" is a bluesy romp that feels genuine and heartfelt the whole way, and a number of others, like "Old Black Magic," swing along rapidly in at least a pleasant fashion. Her sense of ballads is also generally well-developed, with the slow blues "My Love" being a particularly strong offering accompanied by Paul Shewchuk on bass.
Henry's previous recordings include dance and Latin work, and at times there's a hint on this album in songs like "Get Here" that she might be simply another Whitney Houston-type pop diva. It'sencouraging to see she hasn't gone entirely down the diva route, which would probably be easier and more lucrative for her from a commercial standpoint. But a hint of pop in some other songs at the end of her current album, including "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and "Imagine," may make one wonder what route she'll take in the future.
Her trio of Shewchuk, Mike Orta on piano and Danny Burger on drums generally delivers without much distinction, leaving Henry as the star vehicle by design or default (Orta is an occasional exception with some spiritedif hardly revolutionaryruns on tunes like "Summertime"). There's nothing wrong with their foundation of support, but one wishes they'd boost her a bit higher by interacting a bit more with her interpretations instead of leaving the impression of laying down a pleasing set of rhythm tracks for Henry to work with and calling it a day. Her web site states this is a live album, by the way, but there's no audience noise or anything else reflecting this.
The Nearness Of You finds Henry in the company of many other performers in the early stages of their recording careers who show promise. The question is now whether she will continue developing similar to a performer like Dianne Reeveswhose wildly uneven jazz and pop albums from her early days have given way to a string of Grammy successesor try achieving wider recognition by veering fully into the pop field. Either way, that's where the modeling and acting efforts may pay offother attractive performers have certainly achieved widespread notoriety with lesser material than this.
Personnel: Nicole Henry: vocals; Mike Orta: piano; Paul Shewchuk: bass; Danny Burger: drums.