Santa brought New York City a lovely musical Christmas present this weekend. Wrapped up tightly in a silky, bright red dress, the powerfully charismatic and beautiful singer, Nicole Henry, who travels the world spreading her brand of jazzy joyful noise, landed her musical sleigh at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Saturday night. She definitely turned up the heat on my holiday fire. In a stirring mix of traditional holiday tunes and jazz/pop standards, she brought the audience to its feet not once but twice, to celebrate her talent.
Ms. Henry is a buff beauty (I couldn’t help admiring her biceps!), who blends strength and feminity in equally compelling proportions. She can soar vocally like Whitney Houston, or caress you with an intimate whisper. Her voice is like a fine wine: full bodied and smoky with an earthy texture, topped with light, delicate notes, beautifully balanced, with a warm, lingering finish.
She was backed by a tight and tasty ensemble of brilliant jazz musicians: Avi Rothbard on electric guitar, Joe Davidian on piano, Rene Hart on bass and Henry Conaway on drums. Each was a superlative player in his own right, adding lots of personal flavor to the set, but never overpowering Ms. Henry’s performance. Together, they made the season, and the evening, bright.
The group gave their special musical twist to the holiday favorites. Their rendition of “Gloria (Angels We Have Heard on High)” rocked with a decidedly Afro-Carribean rhythm. “Oh, Holy Night” simply brought the house down with the soaring beauty of her performance. Ms. Henry also brought her sexy self and sense of humor to a song I didn’t know, whose lyric went, “ I’m getting the spirit… the dark!” over and over again. Her “Rudolph the Red Nosed Raindeer” was driven by Mr. Davidian’s fine bluesy piano. In a joking tribute to the history of the venue, she also reminded us that the people she knew with red noses “either were sick, or hanging out at Studio 54!”
Ms. Henry brought us inspiration from the secular world of musical theater as well, including fine renditions of “Believe” from “The Wiz,” “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music,” and the pop standard, “That’s All”.
She also shared a few triste moments with us. She conveyed the sense of loss she experienced from the deaths of both a musical mentor, and that of her agent, who had an untimely heart attack at age 34, as the introduction to her heart wrenching performance of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” She reminded us not to fail to heal any old wounds in the holiday season.
Early in the evening, she gave a fond shout out to her family in Silver Springs, Maryland, and their traditional twenty-five cent ante poker games. She concluded the evening with an encore salute to family, dreaming of the joys of “Home.”
I share her wish to all to share in love and faith, whatever yours may be, this holiday season.