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Nicky Schrire Quartet at Raphael Vineyard

Dan Bilawsky By

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Nicky Schrire Quartet
Raphael Vineyard
Long Island Winterfest
Peconic, NY
February 22, 2014

Long Island Winterfest, which puts musical acts in wineries for six straight weekends during the bleak midwinter, is a boon to the economy and cultural atmosphere of the East End. It truly helps to drum up business during the off season, as locals and visitors drop into the vineyards to sip some vino while soaking in the sounds of the day; that is, if they choose to actually listen. In past years, jazz has been the chief marketing tool for the event, but it always seemed to rate third in the actual pecking order, coming in behind wine and socialization. In 2014, jazz didn't even rate third.

For the seventh annual edition of the festival, jazz got knocked down a peg but it didn't get knocked out. "Jazz On The Vine" became "Live On The Vine," as the organizers attempted to expand the "overall musical selection to encompass talented performers in jazz, blues, soul and country." While this change came off as a vote of mixed confidence in jazz, the people in charge still demonstrated a commitment to the genre that's easily reflected in the programming: Trumpet heavy Alex Sipiagin, pianist/vocalist Champian Fulton, up-and-coming organist Jared Gold, trombonist Ray Anderson, and the supremely gifted Nicky Schrire all appear on the 2014 calendar.

Schrire, a young South African vocalist who's been based in New York for the past several years, made her Long Island Winterfest debut at the resplendent and overly reverberant Raphael Vineyard on a sunny and unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon. She delivered two winning sets that highlighted her worldly ways, songwriting savvy, ambitious artistry, and affable nature.

The show took off with a taste of Brazil, as Schrire and her band bounded along through "E Preciso Perdoar." Drummer Jake Goldbas, playing a hybrid-ized drum/percussion kit, pushed and prodded the group, bassist Sam Anning provided rock solid support, and guitarist Matt Davis delivered a distinctive guitar solo, demonstrating his pellucid and pleasant tone all the while. All three men proved to be versatile as can be throughout the afternoon, but they each had plenty of opportunities to reprise those particular roles.

As the first set continued, Schrire delivered a beautiful original about the life of the traveling musician ("Traveler"), gave a nod to Henry Mancini ("Moon River"), took a playful turn on a voice-and-drums duet with Goldbas ("Swimming Song"), and referenced her critically acclaimed sophomore album—Space & Time (Self Released, 2013)—with a Massive Attack cover ("Teardrop"). The last two numbers before the set break gave her an opportunity to pay tribute to her homeland, as she performed Busi Mhlongo's "Yise Wabant'a Bami" and her own "My Land."

When the set break had come to an end, the room was noticeably louder, making it harder to hear Schrire's crystalline vocals. The split between active listeners and inattentive wine swillers greatly favored the swillers, but those who came for jazz, seated in the immediate circle surrounding Schrire and her band, were treated to some great performances during the second set. Schrire's own "Together" came first, followed with a by-request teaser of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters Of March" that morphed into a partial take on the song. Once that off-the-cuff creation was through, the band returned to the script and the music of South Africa. Winston "Mankunku" Ngozi's "Yakhal 'Inkomo," featuring some behind-the-beat chordal soloing from Davis and a slow, loping swing groove from Goldbas, came off just right.

Midway through the set, Schrire upped the ante with Bobby McFerrin's "Invocation," which opened with some wonderfully expressive a cappella work. She continued to impress with her seemingly effortless leaps and drops, but only a few in the crowd seemed to take notice of this performance. Greater attention did come her way when she turned to the work of the immortal Duke Ellington ("In A Mellowtone"), but the audience focus was fleeting; most people zoned out again when she and Davis delivered a duo take on "Space & Time." The second set came to an end with Schrire's own "Try" which, along with "Traveler," proved to be the strongest of the new originals. A syncopated martial snare drum beat, a quickly-passing lyric nod to Paul Simon, and a generally tuneful bearing helped to make this one memorable.

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