Michelle Nicolle Quartet

Presbyterian Hall, Springwood, February 13

Michelle res
Michelle Nicolle. Photo: Peter Karp Photography.


No, surely not. Not vocally. Not that note. Not that high. Not now. She wouldn’t dare. Eeeeeee! She did, and she did it: became airborne; hit the stratospheric pitch amidships. Thrilling. You could feel the whole room lift with her, willing her on; exhilarated by the boldness, the beauty, the gorgeous musicality, and the fact that even when Michelle Nicolle is hitting notes that endanger the venue’s windows there’s a warmth at work that is about taking us with her rather leaving us merely impressed.

Nicolle has been a bright star on Melbourne’s jazz scene for 20 years, with this version of her band a constant for 11 of those. No doubt this cohesion helps launch those stratospheric flights when improvising, the pinnacle of her daring. The contexts, meanwhile, largely come from the middle of the standard repertoire. This is no criticism: it beats the hell out of soiling one’s material with third-rate originals – the only sort so many jazz singers seem able to drum up.

She did, however, present some radically reimagined arrangements, most notably on I Love You (and Don’t You Forget It), Blessing in Disguise and Caravan. The latter is usually taken at a canter, if not a bolting gallop, but here, instead, the mood and sonic backdrop was a wide sky and an empty desert, brilliantly realised by guitarist Geoff Hughes, bassist Tom Lee and drummer Ronny Ferella. Such space clearly suits Nicole, giving her room to build something.

As much was proved when one of the few up-tempo tunes, Cottontail, was also among the least effective. But then I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart also struggled for lift-off, as did the rather curious choice of Cold Chisel’s Forever Now. Elsewhere, such as on a stunning Sophisticated Lady, all the band had to do was set up a golden glow of warmth, soft groove and space and Nicole was soaring to places you will be taken by few singers. In the world, I mean.