Sunday, August 8, 2010

We're Up in Harms! Nancy's Farewell at the AQ

© Andrea Canter

I’m always impressed when, each time I hear a performer, I sense a seismic shift. Not necessarily a quantum leap on the Richter scale, but a definite movement forward brought about by an artistic tremor, a sliding of musical earth as new ideas find light. Such has been my experience with singer, soon-to-be New Yorker, Nancy Harms. To her credit, Nancy’s approach is not easily described or compared. Her early pro gigs—about three years ago—suggested a cautious, sweet-voiced songbird searching for the story in each lyric from the Great American Songbook. And in the past year or so, that caution has dissolved, the songbook has grown to encompass modern jazz repertoire, the still-sweet voice has found new ways to deliver stories such that we hear new lessons in old tales-- just listen to her debut recording, In the Indigo. And if a career’s journey can be defined by the company one keeps, Nancy Harms is on a trajectory that will surely bring her into the realm of the best of modern improvisors.

Last night at the Artists Quarter, Nancy held her “official” farewell bash surrounded by the area’s best support system—pianist Bryan Nichols, bassist Anthony Cox, drummer Jay Epstein, each a formidable and exceptionally creative talent. They had never performed together as a quartet. It was music that bears repeating and recording, from the singular stunning instrumental solos (both Bryan and Anthony—arco and pizzacato-- on “Blue Skies,” Bryan’s staccato passages on his arrangement of “Mood Indigo” and desconstruction of “It Could Happen to You,” both Bryan and Anthony again with their ascending and descending scales on “Night and Day,” Jay’s multi-layered percussion on “How High the Moon”) to the high-kicking ensemble exchanges (the altering light and dark passages of “It Could Happen to You,” the swinging interplay of “How High the Moon,” the exquisite cohesion of “If I Were a Bell,” the abstract haze of “Bye Bye Blackbird”), to Nancy’s well-crafted, heart-stopping interpretations (“Cry Me a River,” “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise,” “My One and Only Love” and in duet with Anthony on “Blue Skies”). The closing tune of the night was also a first for Nancy, a tune sung in Portuguese,"Ciranda Do Mundo" by Edu Krieger. True to her description, the song had a circular motion, sizzling solos from Nichols and Cox, an underlay of samba-swing percussion from Epstein, and Nancy bid us farewell on a very up note.

Nancy has a few more gigs (at the Red Stag, Olive Lounge of the Bloomington Hilton, Hell’s Kitchen) and will return in October to reprise last year’s “Blue” revue at the Capri. But I suspect she will soon be on stage at prime vocalist venues in Manhattan. She won’t be just another wannabe on the New York scene. This young artist from Clara City, Minnesota has big ears and plenty of original ideas to sustain her quest to grow in the Big Apple. In the past few years we’ve seen Michael O’Brien, Kelly Rossum, Jeremy Walker, and now Nancy Harms head off to the jazz center of the universe. We only send the best.

Photos: Nancy Harms; Nancy and the band; Bryan Nichols; Anthony Cox; Jay Esptein. All at the Artists Quarter, August 7, 2010 (Photos by Andrea Canter)