12 March 2013
Voice again, but worlds apart
It’s a big weekend for the Canberra 100th Birthday and Michelle Nicolle is performing by the lake for the big day, but Megan and I saw the quartet as they should be, at Vivaldi’s, in a dark-despite-daylight cabaret space, for a Loft jazz audience. I spoke to Ronny and he described the music as chamber. This is right and the venue was perfect. So much more intimate and detailed than the Q Theatre, where I last heard them, or by the lake later today. This was delicate and detailed performance. The songs were communicated, in all their mid-century style and passion and knowing corniness. The interplay between performers was exceptional, especially the front liners, Michelle and Geoff. I loved hearing the words to tunes. I realised I don’t listen to singers often, so the intros to common tunes, like All the things you are or There will never be another you, went unrecognised. But they become important with sung tunes: they introduce the context of the passion expressed within. And I was blown over by Michelle’s richly varied and embroidered singing. It’s what jazz singing is, of course, and this was stunning. All sorts of harmonised lines and unexpected twists and scat over a long range and improvisations and even quiet accompaniment behind guitar and other solos. And such a mature voice of body and range and expression. It’s a joke that she follows Jaap Blonk of the night before, although they are both vocalist and both are masters of their trades. I love to hear words and voice and visit the raw and surfaced emotions of the great era of cinema that these tunes come from. The band was touring their new CD of Mancini songs, so there was some clever, some touching and some just plain silly writing: Moon River (too-common and syrup, but I love it), everyone’s first bass riff Peter Gunn, I love you (and don’t you forget it), Dreamsville. I didn’t know he’d written Days of wine and roses, or that it’s from a film that she described as one of the saddest films, with Lee Remick and Jack Lemon, of alcohol and love and the rest. I must look that up. Then fluff like It had better be tonight (Meglio stasera): “If you're ever gonna kiss me / It had better be tonight … Meglio stasera / Baby go go go / Or as we natives say / "Fa subito!"”. Wow! Or On the street where you live. How to take it seriously? When it’s this good, you can’t not. But not just mid-century. She also sang decent Australian pop: Quasimodo’s dream by Dave Mason and The Reels and Forever now by Don Walker and Cold Chisel. And what nice vocal accompaniment, distant and unobtrusive. I use “nice” for a reason. Nothing out of place. Perfectly fitting, well arranged, Ian Moss solos on bass, odd times and complex unison counterpoint lines on guitar and vocals or bass, such light and crisp guitar, a perfect bass tone, so sparse drumming, open and clear sound and even a flugelhorn when Miro sat in for a few tunes. But always light, delicate, intimate. I’m listening to a CD now as I write this. A CD hasn’t got the same presence, but that intimacy and delicacy are there, along with chops. Calm, understated, richly embroidered but never, never jarring. I liked this gig so, so much. Michelle Nicolle (vocals) played Mancini and more with Geoff Hughes (guitar), Tom Lee (bass) and Ronny Ferella (drums). Miroslav Bukovsky sat in for two tunes.