Nicky Schrire is a British-South African vocalist and composer based in Toronto, Canada. Her upcoming album, Nowhere Girl, is out June 9th on Anzic Records. The music blurs the lines between jazz, singer-songwriter and folk traditions, and is her first album in ten years. Produced by Grammy-nominated producer Oded Lev-Ari, the album features a rhythm section comprising Canadian trio Myriad3 (Ernesto Cervini, Dan Fortin, Chris Donnelly), saxophonist Tara Davidson, guest vocalist Laila Biali, and Mozambican guitarist Julio Sigauque (Freshlyground).
Nicky has performed and taught internationally, with musicians including Ben Wendel, Gerald Clayton and Nikki Iles. Her music has seen her likened to vocalists Joni Mitchell, Norma Winstone, and Esperanza Spalding with The Boston Globe’s Jon Garelick noting that “though her approach has earned her comparisons to Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens, the similarities are superficial…she’s got her own thing, and it’s very much worth listening to.”
For our playlist series, she picked 10 albums that shaped her as an artist…
Maria Schneider – “Winter Morning Walks”
I love all of Maria’s albums but this was the first album of hers that featured large ensemble writing with a vocalist singing lyrics. The result is lush, intricate, and hugely atmospheric. Maria’s compositions pair perfectly with the poems from Ted Kooser’s anthology “Winter Morning Walks.”
Together, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the sublime soprano Dawn Upshaw, they paint images of first light, animals darting across the sky, dust roads under foot. I was inspired by how brilliantly this music illuminates the natural world and so I tried my hand at writing a song along those lines with my tune “A Morning”.
Matt Carmichael – “Where Will The River Flow”
I had written much of the music on my new album “Nowhere Girl” years before the Scottish saxophonist Matt Carmichael released his wonderful album “Where Will The River Flow” so any Celtic underpinnings in my recording already existed. But hearing Matt’s album (and that of his pianist Fergus McCreadie) really reinforced the appeal of mixing Celtic melodies, inflections and more into the jazz context. I love this hybrid folk-jazz world that Matt and Fergus helm so superbly.
Randy Newman – “Live In London”
My father introduced me to Randy Newman’s music when I was about eight years old and I’ve loved Randy ever since. His writing is masterful, his wit second to none, and his ability to use jazz harmonies to enrich a well-crafted melody is sensational. This album sees Randy in my favourite setting-live, at the piano, accompanied by strings performing his arrangements of his music.
June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, Huw Warren – “Quercus”
This is such a haunting album, from start to finish. To sing and perform with such restraint is a feat, even if it is part of the fabric of June’s being. While her voice and delivery appear sparse, maybe even unemotive, there is a suppleness to her instrument, highlighted by the tasteful musical choices of her collaborators, saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren.
This album stopped me in my tracks and then invited me to lean in.
Mandisi Dyantyis – “Somandla”
Out of all the jazz musicians currently making music in South Africa, Mandisi Dyantyis is the person I’m most excited about. This album is wonderfully vibrant and Mandisi’s songwriting is fantastic. The only thing better than this album is the chance to hear Mandisi live.
His audiences know every lyric and sing along with him, moved to rise out of their seats by his charisma and magnetism. I’m aware that this makes him sound a bit like a cult leader and I’ll gladly join his 100K plus followers in declaring my adoration for his music.
Tatiana Parra & Andrés Beeuwsaert – “Aqui”
The piano-voice duo is my favourite context. From the albums of Norma Winstone and John Taylor, and then Fred Hersch, to current duos like Cecile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner, the configuration allows for both space and displays of virtuosity. Musical conversation can ebb and flow with such freedom. Songs can shine with clarity and, sometimes, new meaning.
This duo album from the Brazilian vocalist Tatiana Parra and the Argentinian pianist Andrés Beeuwsaert introduced me to so much contemporary Brazilian repertoire, both with lyrics and without. Tati’s singing is crystalline and, as always, so musical. I always strive to sing with her clarity and emotional connection.
Thomas Newman – “Road To Perdition”
I always joke that I’m waiting for the Newmans to adopt me. I love my dad, but I’d jump ship to become a Newman. And my father would likely understand and applaud my decision!
I mentioned Randy earlier and his cousin, Thomas, is equally precious to me. It’s difficult to pick a favourite Thomas Newman score. There’s his famous syncopated accompaniment for “American Beauty”, and his anthemic themes for “The Shawshank Redemption.” His heady, subtle writing for “Little Children”, and his playful but brilliant music in “Wall-E”.
However, if I had to pick one of his soundtracks, it would be the music he wrote for Sam Mendes’ “The Road To Perdition.” Not only is this one of my favourite films, but the music is classic Newman. Those parallel chord motions with melody note choices that, at first, ring diatonic, but then, repeated, cast the perfect amount of dissonance to reflect the unpredictable storyline.
Beatenberg – “The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg”
Beatenberg is a pop band out of Cape Town, South Africa who are hugely popular, both in their hometown and internationally. The band’s lead guitarist and singer, Matthew Field, is a jazz musician by training, which gives their music the same sort of edge that Dave Matthews and Sting possess. High praise, I know, but it’s apt.
Not only does their music make me incredibly homesick, with hints of Johnny Clegg and titles like “Cavendish Square” (a local shopping centre) or “Southern Suburbs” (where I grew up in Cape Town), but the writing is incredibly good.
The below song “Achievement” is unusual in that it’s Matt singing and playing solo, however it perfectly showcases his ability as a songwriter and player.
Danish String Quartet – “Last Leaf”
I seldom listen to entire albums these days. I blame it on age and the internet. However, this is an album I bought and listened to in one sitting. Again, it sees folk music married to another genre, in this case classical music. The result is an emphasis on melody and form, never bad things in my book.
I can’t rave enough about the Danish String Quartet or “Last Leaf.” This album calms me and gives me hope that seemingly simple, beautiful acoustic music is enough and is of great value in a modern age.
Blossom Dearie – “Blossom Dearie”
I suppose there should be a “classic jazz” choice in this lineup. I could’ve gone with Verve’s “The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks”, or Betty Carter’s “Social Call”, but the vocalist who flies under the radar and never fails to dazzle me is Blossom Dearie. She had bite, she had intelligence, and she had fabulous piano-playing ability.