It’s true that I’ve cut back on the reviews of contemporary jazz recordings. I’m definitely not sick of jazz, but I simply had no time to explore some of my favorite genres and perhaps expose myself to some new ones. I do have to admit that each new contemporary jazz release was quickly pigeonholed before I reviewed it, and those pigeonholes were getting fewer by the day. A good example, of course, is the audiophile phenomenon of the female voice and the immense plethora of recordings designed to appeal to that demographic. As I’ve hinted in the past, I’m not attached to the female voice as the ultimate indicator of good sound, so it would take somebody quite special to break through that fog. That somebody quite special, however, is Nica Carrington.
Nica Carrington has a new album out, her debut, and it’s called Times Like These. It’s an origin story, a tale about a music student from New York City, trumpet and vocals, and how she and her vocal coach John Proulx started a “pandemic project.” Nica really wanted to sing about the effects of Covid-19 on the music and education communities, and Proulx, as it turns out, has the chops and resources to arrange and produce and accompany her on piano.
Times Like These isn’t full of revolutionary new ideas in the world of jazz. It simply is what it is, an extremely well-recorded album of pop and jazz standards performed by a stellar piano trio (bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe LaBarbera are a fine rhythm section). Nica Carrington, needless to say, is an extremely gifted singer and that’s what got my attention. The female voice thang with audiophiles has gotten a little creepy over the last few years–not to mention the word “female,” on its own, has grown quite clunky and perhaps a little dehumanizing and we should probably come up with a better term. But wow, I loved her voice from the opening moments of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” and I never looked back.
Times Like These is all about this beautiful and distinctive voice, which also happens to achieve a certain dryness that is perfect for capturing such emotional standards as “When Sunny Gets Blue,” “The Summer Knows” and “The Shadow of Your Smile.” These are great tunes that I already know and dig, but they sound different when viewed through Nica’s eyes, and that slight edge to her voice tells me this isn’t about being nice and sunny and nostalgic. Nica Carrington is the very definition of a jazz singer, someone who takes familiar tunes and familiar verses and makes them apply to the place we are right now. She’s special, and this is a stunning debut.