Continuing with my interview with Nicky Schrire:
There is an eclectic mix of tunes here that are captivating! How were they chosen and what was your creative inspiration when it came to the incredibly organic presentation not to mention the unique way you re harmonized some of the melodies without mangling the tune in its entirety.
N.S. - "Aaah, thanks Brent! Well, seven of the eleven tunes had been arranged and developed while I was still a student at the Manhattan School of Music. The arrangements had been honed over a long period of time and they’d been sung plenty. So I was very comfortable with those songs and I still loved them-even after a multitude of performances. The two original compositions on the album, “Journey” and “Ode To A Folk Song”, were also written while I was a student. They’re both good examples of me slowly finding my feet and my sound and being able to identify what my concept is. That word sounds mightily pretentious, but it’s an accurate term. It was very challenging –it still is- to find my schtick, to fully realize what it is that makes me different and what it is that I want to say musically. I suspect it’s a life-long pursuit.
The remaining four tunes, although new to the party, each came about in a very organic way-so I’m glad that’s a term you used and that you feel they were presented that way. I’ve been singing The Beatle’s “Blackbird” since I was an undergraduate at the University of Cape Town. However, I’d never sung the original version. The arrangement I learnt and used in public was a transcription and adaptation of Bobby McFerrin’s solo acapella rendition of the song. It was a challenge I took on both to stretch my technical and aural facility and to display my utter adoration for him. It was a love letter of sorts to Bobby. I could’ve simply recorded his arrangement on the album, but the truth of the matter is that Bobby sings it so much better than I ever could. It’s his creation, his genius. So, I decided to rearrange the tune, taking phrases of the original and reworking them to fit my aesthetic (which leans towards the pop side-unabashedly!). And I still pay homage to Bobby and his influence with the opening prelude, which uses intoning (when you inhale on a tone), like in he does in his original solo arrangement.
I started working on an arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” just before I solidified the details for the project. We’d performed it a couple times and it felt right at home in our repertoire. I loved the spirit of our rendition and it just felt right to include it in the lineup. I went searching for a tune for Peter and I to duet on. I wouldn’t advocate this as the way to approach recording an album-I’m a firm believer that having the material should be the first step, and recording it should feel like the only possible next step. But it wasn’t totally non-directional because Peter and I have two shared loves-Shawn Colvin and James Taylor. So we attempted a couple of Shawn’s tunes and ended up hitting the jackpot with James’ “Shower The People.” I started the arrangement, took it to Peter, and we completed the chart in one session. So I knew it was meant to be.
Lastly, it was important to me that I include a song by a South African composer. I pride myself on never singing songs for the sake of it, or to prove a point. There’s a plethora of South African music to wade through, but I tend to gravitate towards the music written either by my peers or by composers I look up to and who have mentored me in some way or another. Carlo Mombelli is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting and adventurous composers and bassists in SA. He is also a wonderful educator and an incredibly warm, generous person. I’d sung his song “Me, The Mango Picker” when I was still living in Cape Town, and then once again for a concert at MSM. It was fun to see how American-based musicians would approach the song, versus how SA musicians interpreted it. However, because the message of the lyrics were so personal to Carlo (they describe being overseas and realizing that now is the time (“the mangos are ripe”) to return to SA/home) and applicable to my journey thus far, I decided to strip down the original rendition and have it feature two of my favourite people and players, Sam Anning (bass) and Jay Rattman (clarinet).
As for re harmonizing the songs without mangling the tunes in their entirety, some people may not think I was successful on that account! It remains to be seen… The lyrical message of a song is very important to me, so the first step is to retain the mood of the song when introducing new harmonies and rhythmic devices. For instance, I would never change Lerner and Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You” into a major-hued samba. I would be so far off course it’s laughable! So the lyrics are usually my guide. I also try to re imagine songs using material that already exists in the original version or in the lesser-known verse. That helps with consistency. And ultimately, I’m the person arranging all eleven songs so I’d hope there’s a common thread that runs throughout the collection of songs due to the fact that my personality becomes intertwined in the music and the delivery of the songs."