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Although she’s already firmly established as one of the jazz world’s most acclaimed and respected young vocalists, Nicole Henry’s vibrant new album Embraceable makes it clear that she can’t be categorized so simply. “I consider myself a singer who loves singing jazz,” notes the versatile Miami Beach-based artist. “However, no matter the style or story, Iâ€™m always striving to be myself.â€
Nicole Henry’s powerfully expressive, emotionally resonant voice has already earned her three international top 10 albums, the most recent being her 2008 release The Very Thought of You. She’s also won an international reputation as a beguiling live performer, enchanting audiences on multiple continents. The aptly titled Embraceable showcases the uplifting energy, sophisticated soulfulness and lyrical sensitivity that have endeared Henry to listeners around the world. However, the new album is a substantial departure from her prior releases, which established her as a peerless interpreter of jazz and pop standards. In contrast, Embraceable finds Henry applying her sublime vocal skills to a captivating set of songs drawn from a diverse array of sources, encompassing impressive new originals, covers of some ’60s and ’70s classics, and a trio of vintage jazz numbers. The material is delivered in a variety of musical settings that range from expansive orchestral arrangements to spare acoustic performances. The album matches Henry’s distinctive voice and abundant charisma with a stellar musical cast that includes saxophonist Kirk Whalum, pianist Gerald Clayton, harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret, and Grammy-winning arranger Gil Goldstein, and was helmed by Grammy-nominated producer Matt Pierson (Kirk Whalum, Jane Monheit, Joshua Redman).
Embraceable’s 12 songs cover a remarkable range of musical and emotional ground, from Henry’s open-hearted reading of the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil chestnut “Just a Little Lovin'” (originally made famous by Dusty Springfield) to her exotic take on the Brazilian favorite “A Day in the Life of a Fool” to her sultry reworking of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” to her intimate voice-and-piano version of Christina Aguilera’s “Save Me from Myself.” Henry also dips back into pop-standard mode to deliver memorable renditions of the 1920s blues standard “Trouble in Mind,” Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Like Someone in Love” and of course “Embraceable You,â€ with Goldsteinâ€™s striking arrangement fusing the Gershwin classic with the Jaco Pastorius composition â€œLas Olas.â€
Henry also shines on contemporary material, such as her torchy, gospel-flavored original “A Little Time Alone,” with itâ€™s raise-the-roof tag and Whalumâ€™s soaring tenor saxophone, and two new compositions written by and featuring gospel-soul artist John Stoddart: the reflective “Anything for You” and the vividly romantic “Even While You’re Gone.” Another notable new song is “Hush Now,” written by rising British singer-songwriter-pianist Oli Rockberger, with Henry moving the listener with the stirring story about comforting a hospitalized loved one. Henry viewed Embraceable’s eclectic approach as an opportunity to expand her repertoire, and to stretch beyond the piano-trio format that she had utilized on previous projects. To this end, she and Pierson invested considerable energy in searching for material and strategizing to find the best way to implement this broader musical vision while retaining her grounding in jazz. “I’ve always sung pop, R&B, and inspirational music,” she noted. “Even as I’ve focused on jazz over the past several years, Iâ€™ve still continued performing non-jazz material. It often seemed like I was living two musical lives, so I wanted to record an album that incorporated more of my overall musical personality.”
The process of choosing songs for Embraceable, she said, was both challenging and liberating. “I was looking for ways to shake things up and challenge myself. While I love jazz standards, I really wanted to continue to reach a deeper, more personal side of myself. There were literally hundreds of songs to choose from. What’s been interesting about this process is that it’s brought me to a place where I feel more connected on a much deeper emotional level with
everything I sing, revealing a more personal side of myself.â€
The level of emotional commitment that Henry brings to Embraceable is consistent with the manner in which she’s always approached her creative life. Growing up in a musical family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, she immersed herself in the arts early on, singing in school and church, and studying cello and ballet. She balanced this with a deep love for the popular music that surrounded her, finding inspiration in the artistry of such performers as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Another source of inspiration was Nicoleâ€™s aunt, Debbie Henry, who sang in the soul/disco outfit Silk. A graduate of the University of Miami with a degree in Communications and Theatre, Henry got her first recording experience with dance music DJ/producer Noel Sanger. After “Miracle,” a Sanger track featuring Henry, reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s dance chart, she toured the U.S. with Sanger, which was followed by a stint with RCA recording artist Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise. Then, in 2001, Henryâ€™s magnetic personality and theatrical background helped her to launch a successful acting career, appearing in film and television roles as well as a series of commercials and voiceover assignments. But she continued to maintain focus on her budding singing career, winning a large regional following around South Florida with her live performances and being named 2002’s Best Local Solo Musician by Miami New Times. The same year, Henry had the opportunity to sing with a jazz trio for the first time, and immediately recognized the musical freedom and storytelling potential that jazz offered. Henry’s enthusiastic embrace of jazz accelerated her creative development, leading to the 2004 release of her debut CD, The Nearness of You, on her own Banister label. That album won considerable attention from audiences and critics both in the U.S. and in Japan, with HMV Japan naming Henry the Best New Jazz Artist of 2004. The album climbed to #2 on HMV Japan’s jazz chart and remained in the top 10 for three months. Back home, Henry won rave reviews and received significant airplay on jazz radio, and was the subject of features in Billboard, JazzTimes and Downbeat. Her second album, Teach Me Tonight, on
which she was backed by the Eddie Higgins Trio, reached #1 in Japan and was named HMV Japan’s Best Vocal Jazz Album of 2005. Henry’s 2008 album, The Very Thought of You, found her continuing to explore the Great American Songbook while broadening her repertoire to include original material and contemporary songs. The album substantially expanded her American audience, reaching #7 on Billboardâ€™s jazz chart. Its international popularity spurred her to step up her performance schedule with successful tours of Japan (where she’s toured nine times), Europe and Russia. Henry also remained a favorite in New York City where she’s made high-profile appearances at such prestigious venues as Lincoln Center’s Dizzyâ€™s Club Coca-Cola and Feinstein’s at the Regency. Throughout 2009 and 2010, her monthly performances in front of sold-out crowds at Chelseaâ€™s Metropolitan Room led to winning the 2010 BISTRO Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocalist.
Henry’s prior achievements set the stage for the creative triumph of Embraceable, on which her successful stylistic departures mark her as an artist whose appeal transcends genre boundaries. “I’m happiest when I’m in front of an audience,â€ she stated, â€œconnecting with people emotionally through music, and making Embraceable brought me closer to that feeling. I was able to reach deeper within to tell more personal stories; to embrace and express who I truly amâ€.Thank you for using Soul Of Miami!