Breaking into the jazz vocal world is no easy feat. Aspiring singers often find themselves angling for crumbs of attention in this overcrowded field, and having a pleasant voice doesn't count for much anymore. Originality in approach, a proclivity for picking songs that stretch the definition of jazz and an elastic understanding of the voice's role in this music have become increasingly important for those looking to make their mark in this domain, and newcomer Nicky Schrire deserves high marks in all three areas.
The London-born, South African-raised, New York-based vocalist bursts onto the scene with this dazzling debut, but she didn't simply materialize out of thin air. This worldly woman has been honing her skills at the Manhattan School of Music and studying with the crème de la crème of the jazz vocal world, including Peter Eldridge, Theo Bleckmann, Gretchen Parlato, Kate McGarry and Norma Winstone; it's clear that she's taken their lessons to heart.
Freedom Flight finds Schrire exploring a diverse array of material and she makes it known that nothing is off limits. Schrire moves from The Beatles and Broadway to Brazil and beyond with the ease of a seasoned veteran. While each of the aforementioned singers clearly influenced different aspects of Schrire's artistry, McGarry's mark is the most noticeable. The album-opening "Freedom Flight/Blackbird" and touching performance of "If Ever I Would Leave You" are clearly in line with McGarry's sensibilities.
Elsewhere, Schrire moves beyond her influences, establishing her own direction. Her voice is sweet and serene as it intertwines with Jay Rattman's clarinet on "Sleep Away" and she creates her own overdubbed tapestry of vocal wonder on Loudon Wainright's amusing "The Swimming Song." She tips her hat to South Africa with "Me, The Mango Picker," and joins forces with Eldridge on the penultimate "Shower The People." While Schrire is an attention stealer throughout, the instrumentalists onboard also manage to get their two cents in. Tenor saxophonist Paul Jones' solo is the highlight on "Ode To A Folk Song," while pianist Nick Paul is an indispensable ingredient throughout, bassist Sam Anning steps out with some fine soloing on occasion, and drummer Jake Goldbas anchors the entire ensemble.
Many singers tend to stand apart or above their ensembles, merely using them as background dressing, but Schrire becomes part of the fabric of her music. Her voice is a warm and supple instrument that serves as a dispensary of emotional power. Freedom Flight is first-rate music that's head and shoulders above most first efforts. Hopefully, we'll be hearing more from Schrire in the near future.
Freedom Flight/Blackbird; Journey; Cosmic Love; If Ever I Would Leave You; Ode To A Folk Song; Sleep Away; The Swimming Song; E Preciso Perdoar; Me, The Mango Picker; Shower The People; Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.
Nicky Schrire: vocals; Nick Paul: piano; Sam Anning: bass; Jake Goldbas: drums, percussion; Paul Jones: tenor saxophone (5, 11); Jay Rattman: clarinet (6, 9); Brian Adler: percussion (7); Peter Eldridge: piano (4), vocals (10).
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