Nicole Henry “gets” the music of the 70s: the salad of rock, blues, jazz fusion and soul influenced songs performed with rhythm and at-ti-tude we called groove. Her powerful vocals growl, slide and churn their way through a lively evening’s worth of style-centric entertainment. Henry “gets” funky. She struts, dips, bumps, shakes a shoulder and shimmies. Her arms and hands communicate. You can practically see the music coursing through her. Constant movement is declaratory and sexual. She’s got it goin’ on.
“Neither One of Us” wants to be the first to say goodbye (Jim Weatherly) is soulfully phrased to wrench every bit of expression out of the lyrics. Henry makes it an exorcism. Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” almost becomes a chant. Breathy lines are repeated; pauses are filled with imagining. The song tip-toes out, head hung with fatalism and loss. A third in this vein, and to my mind the best, is “Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (Miles Gregory). Though the arrangement borders on cha cha, Henry manages to convey deeply painful reflection. There’s a nuanced sob in her voice. A skilled jazz interpreter, she can tie a note in a knot.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” accompanied by only evocative piano is a stand out. Henry’s mournful plea gets right to the heart of things. It’s utterly believable. Tremolos are controlled and gloriously smooth. In a one-two punch, this is followed by a rendition of the gospel “They Won’t Go When I Go” (Stevie Wonder.) like listening to a kite catch a strong wind. The artist’s voice soars, dips and tears. Her exhilaration is infectious.
Less successful are iconic songs by Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, both of which suffer from too much texture, and lengthy, distracting instrumentals. Patter is minimal and feels offhanded, neither personal enough nor anecdotally interesting. As the rest of the act is extremely polished, I find the omission curious.
Photo by Dmitry Loshagin
“So Good, So Right”
Nicole Henry – Vocals
Clarence Penn- Drums
Feinstein’s at Loews Regency
540 Park Avenue at 61st Street
Through May 12, 2012