Nicky Schrire – To The Spring

spring(Nicky Schrire – Digital only)

Experience had taught me to be very wary of jazz singers presenting original material. It’s not their fault that Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Bacharach and David, and all the other brilliant songwriters down the years have been taken up and interpreted by everyone since Ella and Sarah and Frank and Tony. And their own little ditties are bound to come up wanting, especially if mixed in amongst some of the evergreens.

But more recently my tastes seem to have changed. I have just been getting so tired of hearing yet another tastefully swinging version of some standard sung by a singer who, no matter how good they are, is going to struggle to replace Ella or Sarah or Frank or Tony as the definitive interpreter of this particular melody or that particular lyric. And there seem to have emerged a bunch of singers who don’t feel it necessary to try to write a tune or a set of words in the style of Porter or Berlin or that lot, and instead are true to their wider tastes, to their own personalities and their own times.

Only some of this has to do with this new release from the British/South African singer who has been based in New York for a few years now; it just explains my curmudgeonly and suspicious nature when inserting a new vocal album into the CD player.

Nicky’s last album did tackle standards and she managed them with aplomb. But I confess, after just a few listens, to being much more excited about this EP of six original compositions.

The opener, The Traveler, reminds me a little of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s country-tinged writing – and I’m a great admirer of Carpenter – while Father is an unassuming genre-free song which could just as easily be on a Bleecker Street folkie’s set list as interpreted by a classical soprano with chamber group accompaniment. These are songs that not only have melodies that sound new and fresh, while at the same time classic, but have lyrics which are emotionally frank without being embarrassing, and plain without being trite.

It’s not without its slightly rough edges, this self-produced set of songs, but that is also in its favour. If some of the wordless improv goes on a little long, it’s offset by some very striking over-dubbed harmony sections, and Nicky sits nicely at the centre of the instrumental settings expertly provided by pianist Fabian Almazan and double bassist Desmond White. There is a lovely air of freedom and spontaneous creativity about the performances – laid down in a single session – and all presented with just the right balance of quiet confidence and unpretentious modesty.

I get the impression that this is a digital-only EP because Nicky might be testing the waters when it comes to recording her own new music to the exclusion of those old standards. On the strength of To The Spring, I think she should throw caution to the four winds and leap right in.

  • You can buy Nicky Schrire’s To The Spring here.


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