As soon as she starts singing, you immediately understand why Michelle Nicolle is considered Melbourne’s First Lady of Jazz with her performance at The Brisbane Jazz Club a major highlight of the Brisbane International Jazz Festival. Apart from her striking vocal stylings, what also makes Michelle one of Australia’s most gifted jazz singer is her inventiveness and risk-taking approach. No proven formulae at all for her, there is no one model for her approach to the music – other than an accumulative listening over the last 25 years to many inventive and creative musicians. There is a list of favourites from Wayne Shorter to Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan – so many.
From the picturesque setting of The Brisbane Jazz Club, Michelle’s vibrant, honest and disarming voice was the perfect counterpoint to Geoff Hughes‘ guitar, Tom Lee’s double bass and Ronny Ferella’s drums.What is especially striking is the perfect balance between Michelle’s outstanding vocal address and the band itself. Singing with Geoff and Ronny since 1999 with Tom joining the group in 2005, this ensemble has a group telepathy that makes their performance unique.Michelle remarks that the empathy, or ‘sympatico’ with her band is very much organic, and as unique as they all are individually. When they play together, there’s no need to talk about approaches to the music. It’s like a family who know how to communicate with each other without words or even gestures. They just read one another’s ideas as they happen – which clearly means lots of trust.
Michelle’s voice glows in all her beauty from duets with her guitarist to full band arrangements. In the Mancini-Bricusse tune Two For The Road and Cole Porter’s So In Love, Michelle goes from a surprisingly low bottom end to high in the upper register, with the players constantly following her and varying their tonals. There is no surprise that the Jazz Club audience love Michelle’s version of Peter Gunn as well as the a cappella start to Moon River. She reshapes these classic themes without destroying their integrity.
A couple from the audience can’t help dancing while the spectators enjoy the performance in complete silence and Michelle speaks right to the audience’s heart combining her impeccable phrasing, melodic inventiveness and extraordinary harmony with her players. Certainly, Michelle takes liberties in her music, reshaping the tunes with extreme finesse, while keeping masterful control across an impressive vocal range. And all the while, her players perfectly complement her adventurous variations. For Michelle, it’s simply great to be here.