Kevin Jones, Limelight
If proof was needed that Michelle Nicolle is Australia’s most outstanding vocalist, here it is. Her impeccable phrasing and melodic inventiveness are displayed on every track, especially the a capella treatment of ‘I’m In The Mood For Love” where her voice is allowed to glow in all it’s beauty, and again in her duet with guitarist Geoff hughes on the title track. Hughes complements her to perfection as do bassist Tom Lee and drummer Ronny Ferella. But it’s her voice that one marvels at: few could emulate the way it blends with the group on the harmonically challenging opening to “Lover”.
There are evergreen standards but her warmth and an effortless flow of ideas makes the old sound new. This is a voice that Australia should be proud of.
Phil Bennett, Nova
Australian jazz singer, Michelle Nicolle’s new release sees her decorate and modify a series of personal favourites with her striking vocal stylings.
Drawing from the likes of Cole Porter, Lerner and Loewe, and Rodgers and Hart, she has some sturdy melodic foundations to build her sound castles with, and has quite cleverly avoided the trap of sticking to proven formulae, taking liberties left, right and centre to reshape and lead these tunes in new directions.
Treated with wit and warmth, numbers such as On The Street Where You Live, The Loveliest Night Of The Year and You Are My Sunshine sound fresher now than they did 50 years ago.
There’s plenty of variety to spice the soup, with moods varying in shade, and Nicolle is equally as impressive whether bending the mournful melody of Lonely Woman or scatting unaccompanied on I’m In The Mood For Love.
Backed by the almost invisible Tom Lee and Ronny Ferella on bass and drums, her main musical soar is guitarist Geoff Hughes, whose tasty, gently melodic embellishments serve as a lovely counterpoint to her vocal excursions.
Sometimes dreamy, sometimes as excited as a child in a sweet shop, but always marvellously expressive, Michelle Nicolle is a jazz singer of singular talent, and this album is a sheer delight.
Leon Gettler, The Age, 3 November 2005
“A CD plus DVD (Nicolle performing live in Korea) that needs checking out. A three-time Mo award winner and ARIA finalist, Nicolle has killer qualities as a vocalist..a mix of uncanny precision in timing and phrasing, stretching and compressing words and notes to perfection, and an inventiveness that doesn’t let up. It’s a blend that allows her to take a familiar melody and reshape its structure without destroying the integrity of the intent that created it, and reminding us of an emotional core, often one that had long been missing.
The title track here is a case in point. The backing on the album is from the familiar crew of guitarist Geoff Hughes and Ronny Ferella on drums. Howard Cairns and Tom Lee share the honours on bass, with guest appearances by guitarist Stephen Magnusson and Simon Lewis on congas for the haunting version of Ellington’s Azure. The moments of call-and-response send chills down the spine. The DVD provides another dimension.”
Adrian Jackson, The Bulletin, 16 November 2005
“On What Kind of Fool, Melbourne singer Michelle Nicolle delivers a collection of old standards – given a new lease of life with smart arrangements – mixed with a dreamy Ellington ballad (“Azure”) and a pair of strong originals. Throughout, Nicolle demonstrates her ability to interpret lyrics with a concern for the songwriter’s intentions, yet also with a jazz singer’s boldness. That boldness also comes to the fore in her assured scat solos. As always, she benefits from the tasteful, reliable support of guitarist Geoff Hughes, bassist Tom Lee and drummer Ronny Ferella. Guitarist Stephen Magnusson guests on three songs; his sighing tones behind the singer on “Midnight Sun” make it a highlight of the album. A valuable bonus on the first run of this CD is the inclusion of a DVD, of a set Nicolle performed at a Korean jazz festival last year. Fans will enjoy this.”
Leon Gettler, The Age, December 24, 2003
…..”razor-sharp phrasing, limber timing and ear-pinning technique….Nicolle’s knack for uncovering surprises jars our imagination. Like the best artists, she reveals what we thought we knew in a clearer light. A 2003 highlight.”
Shane Nichols, Financial Review December 18, 2003
“One of the things that makes this Victorian jazz singer one of the finest of the current generation is her fresh way of approaching each album. She doesn’t opt for a predictable set of standards. Nicolle takes a slightly oblique path – in the past, putting lyrics to a Monk tune, for example; this time she’s sourced favourite songs more or less from her own generation, particularly from the silver screen. Hence there’s To Sir, With Love, Everybody’s Talking, Perfect Day, Don’t You Forget About Me, Days of Wine and Roses Somewhere, My Love, Smile, Hernando’s Hideaway and a few more. The choices are not obvious – especially the title track, which always deserved a life beyond its original one but never seems to be covered, until now.
The National Jazz Award winner is a veteran now and it shows in her daring handling of her material. Hear, for instance, how she turns the Dr Zhivago tune into a semi- South Sea slumber, complete with Ed Bates’ pedal steel guitar. This is a reflective, contemplative record, with Nicolle reshaping these tunes in a way that casts a new melodic light on each, and wrapping them in tender, sensitive arrangements that suggest new layers of meaning.
Helping out is a select outfit of Geoff Hughes (guitar), Howard Cairns (bass), Ronny Ferella (drums) and a dozen guest musicians, bringing the offbeat touches and the diversity she demands.
Bill Donaldson, Cadence Magazine (USA), June 2003
Australian singer Michelle Nicolle solidifies her reputation, at least within her native country, as an inspiring singer of undoubted fortitude – one whose subtlety belies the difficulty of her work.Keep Your Heart Right is Nicolle’s first CD that was recorded live before an audience, and the fact that she receives a smattering of applause at the end of each number, instead of the roar of an auditorium audience, reinforces the intimate feel of her singing. No doubt, it was her choice to perform in a small club where the connection with her listeners is immediate and personal, rather than a shotgun approach of trying to connect with dozens or hundreds.
Adding to the success of Nicolle’s CD is guitarist Geoff Hughes, who staying out of the way while she sings, laying down the chords behind her to add lushness on “New Life” or playing in harmony on songs like “Darn That Dream”. The interplay between them while Nicolle scats, as on “Keep Your Heart Right”, creates further excitement, albeit understated, that wouldn’t have existed if the tune were performed individually.
With a timbre and style somewhat like Karrin Allyson’s, Nicolle attacks a song with insight and ease. One thing is certain: she will interpret a song from her own unique perspective so that none of her renditions on Keep Your… is ordinary. On the introduction to “Charade”, for instance, Nicolle focuses on the song’s first three notes while the chords shift beneath her. Then after a first chorus, even while staying within the confines of the tempo she establishes, there’s an undercurrent of doubled movement. Beyond the complexity of the rhythm, Nicolle moves into a scat chorus full of sweetness and flight, her sense of time sure. Even her own compositions, like “Tell The Truth”, contain quick intervallic leaps that exist not for their own sake, but to advance the feeling of a song in a way that other singers couldn’t attempt.
Even Kurt Elling, when he toured Australia, recognised Nicolle’s talent, calling her up on stage with him for an impromptu performance, and justifiably so. Michelle Nicolle is an exceptional singer who, if recording on the label owned by a conglomerate and with the aggressive worldwide promotional support, would gather a great deal of attention she deserves as an original and inspiring Jazz artist.
Kevin Jones, The Weekend Australian – February 15th 2003 (4 out of 5 Stars)
“A WARTS-and-all dream.” That’s how award-winning Melbourne singer Michelle Nicolle describes this, her first live recording, when thanking the other members of her quartet for the part they played in its success. She is too modest. Her admirable vocal talents coupled with an instinctive feel for music and an ability to pitch her lovely voice like an instrument have rarely been better displayed. Few Australian singers have such talent.She describes her live performances as an “adventure”, and they are – in inventiveness and rhythmic surety.
The lovely ballad Darn That Dream is taken at a faster tempo than usual, ending with an exuberant high note. Rodgers and Hart’s There’s a Small Hotel, so tenderly romantic at the beginning, moves into a raunchy interlude with appropriate lyrics, before she segues back into the opening mood. The prickly Rodgers would definitely not have approved of either treatment but they are examples of the way she can reinterpret a standard, always finding something new. She is complemented by the nimble and melodious guitar of Geoff Hughes, whose playing at times sounds almost like pure jazz poetry. Bassist Howard Cairns and drummer Ronny Ferella round out a group that provides a sympathetic framework for Nicolle’s original flights of fancy. Australian jazz singing doesn’t come any better than this.
Leon Gettler, The Age – January 9th 2003 (3.5 out or 5 stars)
Recorded live in Melbourne last August with backing from Geoff Hughes on guitar, Howard Cairns on double bass and drummer Ronny Ferella. What sets this vocal album apart is the interaction and dialogue. It’s not a case where the singer belts out her stuff with the band in the background. It’s a device that showcases two of Nicolle’s strengths: a razor sharp sense of timing and ever-increasing sense of rhythmic security, combined with a melodic inventiveness and capacity for risk taking.
What she doesn’t have in vocal range, she more than makes up for in her ability to create momentum, even slow time down. The results of these two forces – group dynamics and Nicolle herself – can transform well-travelled standards.
Darn that Dream for instance, becomes a thrilling tightrope act. Another example is how they change There’s A Small Hotel, with an incantation like church bell at the beginning and ending with a sultry exhortation around two repeating chromatic chords. Nicolle not only knows how to breathe life into tradition, she can reach inside and find areas you didn’t know were there.Shane Nichols, Financial Review, Nov 16, 2002 (7.5 stars)
Award winner Michelle Nicolleagain demonstrates her remarkable vocal technique and sheer class, this time on an album recorded live. In truth the performance is so polished that it might stand as a studio session; certainly the audio lacks nothing. Nicolle appears supremely in charge and sounds like she’s enjoying herself as she and her three sidemen – a respected line-up of Geoff Hughes (guitar), Ronny Ferella (drums) and Howard Cairns (double bass) – explore a set of standards mixed with several originals. Her be-bop inclinations are never far away and she takes the opportunity to scat pretty often. Liberties, too, with something like “There’s A Small Hotel”, which starts out politely enough and ends up raunchy. Even so, it’s a fairly conventional road she treads among the standards by Mercer, Van Heusen, Rogers and Hart, Berlin et al. Her handful of originals are what stand out – as they did on her “Misterioso” album, where she displays a talent for writing lyrics as well as singing them. “Tell The Truth”, for example, rings true as something from the jazz canon yet it’s all hers. But to tell the truth, I wish she would dig deep and give us a whole album of new originals and tackle them in a contemporary way, the way Patricia Barber or Cassandra Wilson does (though doubtless with more swing in her case). She’s got the class to do it.
Adrian Jackson, The Bulletin, Dec 2002
Maybe you can’t go out to hear Michelle Nicolle perform tonight, but here is the next best thing, a CD recorded live at a Melbourne jazz club in August. Nicolle is an intimate performer, who bypasses the drama in a song to emphasise the subtleties in the music. She delivers her lyrics as if sharing a secret, and shapes her scat solos to complement those played by guitarist Geoff Hughes. Nicolle relishes the hand-in-glove accompaniment provided by Hughes, bassist Howard Cairns and drummer Ronny Ferella. The program includes three originals, standards like Mancini’s Charade, and three golden oldies from Irving Berlin.
Leon Gettler – The Age Green Guide June 14, 2001 “CD of the Week”
Michelle Nicolle has always had a disarmingly unaffected voice. While there are singers blessed with more fire and light in their tone, there aren’t as many with her inventiveness and imagination. But it’s not just the discipline of her avoiding the obvious and over-used cliché. Nicolle knows her strengths and can play to them by exaggerating elastic phrasing and concentrating on rhythmic and melodic risks. Her approach is more that of an instrumentalist, like a horn player blowing through the changes or even bending the pitch, much in the same way that John Coltrane did to great effect.
Howard Cairns on bass, drummer Ronny Ferella and Geoff Hughes on guitars give her plenty of space for risk-taking, too. The canny arrangements might ensure that it remains light and airy enough to breathe but they also create some great tensions through dissonant lines and rhythmic grenades that threaten to throw her off balance. What works here is the way the group deconstructs and rebuilds, pushing pieces such as Deep Purple – which was written in the 1930’s – or Autumn Serenade (circa 1945), right to the edge. In their hands, the music just doesn’t scan exactly the way it was written, either melodically or rhythmically, and that sends the listener to unexpected places.
Another example is Cole Porter’s I Love You, where the distinctive opening line becomes the backdrop for a duel with the drums, culminating in a rapid-fire scat that doubles with harmonising lines from Hughes. Love Me or Leave Me is turned inside out. That same kind of magic turns a sow’s ear like If I Only Had a Brain from the Wizard of Oz into a silk purse filled with tempo shifts and fast-moving scat, and Coltrane’s After the Rain becomes a moving hymn. Through it all, Nicolle shows a real sense of balance. Some mysterious internal timepiece, perhaps, that lets her keep it all together.”
Kevin Jones, The Weekend Australian June 23rd, 2001
“Michelle Nicolle has no peer as a jazz singer in Australia.
…And what a voice! It can be soulful, touching, adventurous or laced with humour. It’s a lovely musical instrument that integrates beautifully with her trio….This is the best album by an Australian jazz singer I have heard in more than a decade of reviewing music.”
Kenny Weir, Sunday Herald Sun
“..Nicolle never lets her chops get in the way of the straightforward joy she experiences delivering tunes to an audience. The mood throughout is sophisticated and playful, making this an album that confirms Nicolle’s place as Australia’s best jazz singer.”
Adrian Jackson, The Bulletin
“Whether interpreting a lyric or scatting a saxophone-like solo, she is in command….an intelligent program and superb accompaniment…add up to this being one of the year’s outstanding local releases.”
Jim McLeod, ABC Radio 24 Hours
“..the freshness of the music is a joy.”
Michael Foster, The Canberra Times
“..an exceptional talent.”
Green Guide, The Age 28 Jan 1999
A singer to watch. The 1998 National Jazz Award winner’s finely-honed sense of rhythm and keen ear for stylistic nuance might be two drawcards for this debut release. But then, other singers can offer that too. A talented backing line-up, with Mark Fitzgibbon on piano, drummer Ronny Ferella, James Sherlock on guitar and Howard Cairns and Ben Robertson sharing the honours on bass, sets the framework and fills in the colours (and provides some ripping solos). But that is not what makes you sit up. It is Michelle Nicolle’s inventiveness and intelligent arrangements that are the strengths here. They come through on the joyous rendition of Secret Love, a high-wire act without the net, where she trades fours with Sherlock before letting go completely, her voice working just with the drums. Or the title track – an inspired piece of musical textural contrasts, where the echoes from Monk’s walking sixths provide the background to her singing Moonlight Bay. You hear it again in the harmonies with the guitar on Tune Up, or with the bowed bass and repeating guitar pattern on the hypnotic version of Bye Bye Blackbird, where the instruments become other voices.
Alan Bagebuhe, Cadence (USA) June 1999
Michelle Nicolle’s recital is a strong and coherent program due to it’s unity of purpose and vision, and a minimum of personnel shifting. Ms N’s vocal attack is a matter of her exploiting the horn-like qualities of her heady vocal instrument in the service of the linear and/ or modal values of the tunes. Where she sings seeming standards (Secret/Blackbird) she recomposes their melodic lines on the spot. Secret Love is particularly amenable to this treatment, as she spends no time at all in going from zero to sixty, arriving at speed and never flagging in her scatting jog to the finish line. She gets great support from her little band, all of whom also seem to find much to enjoy in this energetic little romp.
Alas not everything works as well. I found the attempt to distend Blackbird into a quasi jazz art song ungainly and wrong-headed. Where she and/or her younger sister, Tamara Nicolle. have fashioned their own lyrics for tacks best known in their instrumental versions, the poetry is good enough to serve as the vehicle which enables the vocal drive-throughs. Thus Ms Nicolle is able to inhabit Ornette Coleman’s Blessing, McCoy Tyner’s Passion and Search, and Monk’s well worn Ruby with generally positive results.
The lyrics for Mulgrew Miller’s Woeful Blues display a sense of congruency to theme absent elsewhere, but the froth of hysteria whipped up for Passion pushes it up and over the top into a satisfying state of orgasmic psychosis. For me, however, the real epiphany comes with the sureality engendered in the conjunction of Misterioso and Moonlight Bay which I may soon feel, after repeated hearings, qualifies as nothing short of genius!
In her scant liner notes Ms Nicolle thanks her Nanna for playing..”Dream on the piano when I was a kid”. There can be no doubt that her fairly straight and heartfelt reading of that concluding tune is a dedication to her musical forbear.
Peter Jordan, Rolling Stone April 1999
Award-winning young jazz singer demonstrates potential on debut album Winner of the 1998 National Jazz Award, Melbourne singer Michelle Nicolle possesses a formidable technique and a staggering range. She also shapes her material imaginatively and generally avoids cliches, qualities which immediately make her more interesting than most other jazz vocalists in the country. As well as recasting standard tunes (Bye Bye Blackbird), and scatting on instrumentals (Miles Davis’ Tune Up), she and her sister have added words to compositions by leading figures such as Ornette Coleman and McCoy Tyner. However, for all the cleverness, her voice still lacks some of the colour and timbre needed to effectively sell songs about love and loss. So while this album heralds a significant talent, there is no doubt Nicolle’s best work lies ahead.
Martin Leslie, Libretto – Classically Melbourne February 2001
This album is a wonderful slice of Jazz -past, present and future and a heart-warming reminder that this complete music form is in good hands. Who will deny us the thrill and pride at the fact that these musician’s reside right here in Melbourne, Australia?!
Brief elaboration on the music content is in order but it would be tardy of me to delay making a most important statement: Michelle Nicolle is the sweet and precious voice of jazz! You will best understand this by experiencing her in a ‘live’ concert. It then becomes immediately apparent that you are a part of a very special event as the silvery and child-like quality of her voice combines with a remarkable and totally fascinating depth of feeling.
The music on this album begins with Michelle’s voice ringing out like a clarion call rallying her superb group of band members to launch into The Blessing (Ornette Coleman’s tune with original lyrics by Michelle’s younger sister Tamara Nicolle). We are then treated to a varied mix of swing, bop and ballads. Every now and then Michelle breaks into fine scat and vocalese. Some familiar tunes (by Monk, Tyner and Mulgrew Miller) take on new meaning as they are sung with imaginative and tender original lyrics penned by the Nicolle sisters. (Miller, for example, said he never imagined Woeful Blues in this fashion, even tough he gladly gave Nicolle permission for the version).
The rendition of Bye Bye Blackbird exhibits a mysterious pathos and hints at much left unsaid. You will find yourself relaxing on Moonlight Bay whilst Michelle’s voice soars and swoops to play over the glittering instrumentation that reflects the band’s depth of talent.