Nicky Schrire -What’s on Your Playlist?

November 8, 2013

fodor-slideVocalist, composer, and arranger Nicky Schrire is an expressive and compelling musician who’s been making waves of late. Schrire graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, where she earned a Masters degree under the tutelage of Peter Eldridge, Theo Bleckmann, and Dave Liebman. A semi-finalist in the “Jazz Voices” Competition (Klaipeda, Lithuania), and a finalist in the Voicingers International Vocal Jazz Competition (Zory, Poland), Schrire’s “irrepressible style” (LondonJazz) makes her an in-demand musician, both as a bandleader and as a sideman. She lent her voice to New York drummer Brian Adler’s “Helium Project,” which featured artists such as Kate McGarry, Dave Eggar, and Ben Monder. Basak  has been ascending the jazz ladder worldwide since her 2012 debut CD Freedom Flight, which landed on numerous “Best of the Year” lists. The London-born, South African-raised NYC artist’s adventurous spirit shines through on her newest release, Space and Time, produced by Matt Pierson and featuring Schrire’s wistful originals alongside fresh takes on songs ranging from Gershwin to George Harrison to Massive Attack. Joining Schrire in these duo performances are pianists Gerald Clayton, Gil Goldstein, and Fabian Almazan.

1. “Road Song” – Tigran Hamasyan

I was first introduced to Tigran’s music through his album, Aratta Rebirth. He writes such exquisite melodies and uses the voice of Areni Agbabian so effectively in delivering these melodies. His writing neatly straddles the lines between improvised music, soundtrack-like harmonies, and beautifully crafted songwriting. “Road Song” is quite cinematic in its development and evocative orchestration. It really celebrates beauty. Pure and (deceptively) simple.

2. “The Lady Vanishes” – Matt Ulery’s Loom

I was a little late to the party when it comes to Matt Ulery. And I also discovered his music in a roundabout way, starting with his previous album, By A Little Light (which is fantastic). Fortunately I finally arrived at his recent offering and became engrossed in the world he creates with his moody, detailed writing. His instrumentation and orchestration is brilliant and so nuanced – I discover something new every time I revisit this album and, specifically, this track.

3. “Come Talk To Me” – Geoffrey Keezer

Based on my previous choices, it’s fairly clear that I’m drawn to piano-driven music. Geoffrey’s rendition of Peter Gabriel’s song is all at once joyous, virtuosic, and addictive. I think I might even prefer it to the original (don’t tell Peter!). He manages to unearth and highlight the melodic essence of the song while maintaining the driving momentum through the use of a rolling ostinato pattern. He is also so tasteful in how he colors the harmonies – they infuse “jazz” into his rendition but the overall style and sound are still contemporary and very pop-influenced. A fantastic example of bringing popular repertoire into the jazz realm.

4. We All Love Neil Young” ­– Bill Frisell

At 1:38, this tune off Bill’s Big Sur album is sweet perfection. It overflows with character and quirk while presenting a straightforward but evocative melody played on the violin by Jenny Scheinman. It’s a brilliant example of “less is more.”

5. “Like The Morning Dew” – Laura Mvula

Laura is getting a lot of buzz at the moment – and deservedly so. I’d be hard pressed to find anyone else who manages to blend memorable songwriting, full orchestral accompaniment, and four-part vocal harmonies the way she does. She trained at the Birmingham Conservatory and her consummate musicianship and musicality really shine through. Her concept is neatly executed with such thought and care. And after all that analyzing, it’s just great music that is fun to listen to.

6. “Mousso” – Fatoumata Diawara

Although Fatou isn’t from South Africa (she was born to Malian parents in Côte d’Ivoire), there is a common thread in sound that runs through all music from the African continent. The mere sound of the acoustic guitar in the intro, followed by the entrance of the shaker, is enough to make me feel homesick. It’s fairly typical of African music to utilize very few chords within a song and I marvel at Fatou’s ability to create different sections and melodic variation within these harmonic limitations. Her music also emphasizes the power of creating a strong sense of atmosphere through writing and delivery. Harmonic shifts, obvious rhythmic complexities and a multitude of other devices are overrated and are often to blame for the lack of mood in a song. There’s no shortage of ambience in Fatou’s music.

7. “Closer to the Source” – Bheki Mseleku

For many people, Abdullah Ibrahim is their “go-to South African jazz pianist.” Mine is Bheki Mseleku. He was both a technical and lyrical player, and a prolific composer. Courtney Pine’s soprano playing on this tune is beautifully matched with Bheki’s percussive accompaniment and the interplay between them is seamless.

8. “Rollercoaster” – Thomas Newman (from the White Oleander Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

I am, without a doubt, obsessed with Thomas Newman’s work. His scores are easily identified through the presence of parallel chord motion, piano-led melodies, and his skill in navigating shifts between sweeping, lush, full orchestral episodes and contrapuntal, percussive interludes (highlighting the use of marimbas and xylophones as in his American Beauty score). “Rollercoaster” is a meandering piece of music but it is orchestrated with such care and attention to detail – the tinkle of a bell fades in and out, flutes deliver brief ascending and descending phrases. There’s so much to hear in a “song” that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It’s a fascinating aural experience.

9. “July Flame” – Laura Veirs

The production in this song is so gorgeous. I also love how clever the writing is – the initial entrance of the melody doesn’t necessarily match where one thinks the downbeat will be when the drums enter. This realization never fails to amuse me. And I love Laura’s lyrics and imagery. She’s a superb songwriter.

10. “A Fine Spring Morning” 

– Blossom Dearie

Blossom was ahead of her time. Her delivery was always unfussy and there’s a contemporary air to her music regardless of whether she was singing tunes from the ‘30s, ‘40s, or ‘50s due to her brilliant interpretation skills. She infused her biting sense of humor into countless standards and her understated musicality was second to none. I’ll always wish I’d had the opportunity to hear/see her live before she passed away.

Nicky Schrire’s latest album, Space & Time (Magenta Records ARG), was released on September 10, 2013.

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