What prompted me to want to review this disc was hearing the reverential somewhat Gregorian-by-way-of-the-Swingle-Singers intro section Schrire gave to Lennon & McCartney's Blackbird, the latter turning out to be the most satisfying version I've noted since Kenny Rankin's quietly joyous cut in the way-underacknowledged but classic Silver Morning LP. But that almost contrapuntal prelude…it was so intriguing! Like Rankin, Schrire's tone is clean and pure, but, unlike Kenny, she has a much more spiritual, rather than swingy be-boppy, approach, as if taking herself and the band to a very hip, very intelligent church. Not to say the band isn't already groovin'—they are in fact quite inventive but also in an almost monastically step-beyond fashion, brains firmly engaged, hearts afterwards. I like that, you don't hear enough of it, and the entire song shifts several times, a small suite unto itself, nearly classical in architecture.
Freedom Flight should have released under a major label's auspices, as Schrire's voice is, going back once more to the inimitable Rankin, an instrument transcending laryngeal norms, often Desmondesque. Nicky put a hell of a lot of thought into the arrangements, as much as into her own lines, and, man o man, does the backing trio ever play them to the hilt. Jake Goldbas handles a set of traps with a style all his own, often inserting the most intriguing punctuation, while Sam Anning (bass) cements the firmament, leaving pianist Nick Paul to perambulate in modes from Jarrett to Evans to Brubeck to Mehldau. A small team (Chris Allen, James Farber, Kevin Harper, Owen Mulholland, and Ted Tuthill) wrangled a crystalline recording under Schrire's production, and the result is a studiously airy and precisely documented mansion and arbor-lined promenade allowing her scatting, singing, and melismatics full rein.
This CD is easily the equal of a handful of truly fine vocal discs I've heard in the last few years, not just for the limber voice aspects but also the interesting mixture of classical and jazz elements. Take Schrire's inclusion of Paul Jones and his sax in Ode to a FolkSong, where the guy blows Gato style in a sharp set of contrasts proving to be not jarring at all, as might be expected, but arresting, breaking down at the end into a burbling denouement (that could've continued for another 25 minutes as far as I'm concerned—delicious!). Hence, that academic manner again: what would have been a risk and gamble in anyone else's hands proves to be perfect execution of artful insight in Schrire's. We have here, ladies and gents, a thinking woman's blend of many flavors verging on—dare I say it?—Stan Kenton territory. Yep, that most adventurous big band lion would've liked this CD a hell of a lot. It doesn't follow his neoclassical infusions as such but the exact same level of mentation was employed, handsomely. What higher praise could there be? And if the eclectic airs don't show well enough in my review, just take a look at the song roster below…and that still doesn't indicate the half of what's going on.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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