BWW Review: NICOLE ZURAITIS Is a Wonder Woman at The Beach Cafe
Every now and then an artist comes along that has the ability to make a patron in a nightclub stop what they are doing. Some set down their glass, not caring that the wine will get warm, others stop eating, as their trout grows tepid, and even the occasional journalist closes their book, allowing their notes to go nowhere, all because the talent on the stage is so special that it requires every ounce of a person's attention. Nicole Zuraitis is just such an artist.
On March 6th, Nicole Zuraitis played a set at the oh-so-cozy Beach Cafe on New York's Upper East Side, and although her artistic home base is more frequently the legendary jazz club, Birdland, Nicole Zuraitis was right at home at The Beach because the coziness of the room and of her music was like a matched set of bedroom slippers, only slippers that envelope the entire being, wrapping a person up in one of the most luxuriously comfortable states one can be in in public without actually being asleep. Let it be known: there is no sleeping at a Nicole Zuraitis show - the quality of the product provided is too good to miss even one note of music, frankly, even one word of conversation. Nicole Zuraitis is not just a consummate performer, she is a doggone funny gal who could have a second career as a television hostess or an emcee. With an obligatory glass of wine in her hand, Nicole Zuraitis spins stories of her life and work of such palatable pleasure that it would be worth it to simply listen to her talk, hear her laugh and see her smile. But it wouldn't be fair to deprive an audience of the artistry of her music.
Whether it is because we are in the middle of Women's History Month or because she is one smart cookie, Nicole Zuraitis invited to join her on the stage two accomplished musicians, female, and these three sisters took a swing together, hitting it out of the park for a grand slam. With Ingbar Paz on bass and Julieta Eugenio on sax, Ms. Zuraitis was generous enough to provide nearly 90 minutes of music sophisticated yet accessible, artistic without becoming aloof, and exciting, rather than laborious. A night of Nicole Zuraitis is like a trip to the museum where you look at the art, experiencing the emotions inspired in your heart, but feeling no responsibility to read the accompanying placard: all that you need is in the observation of the art. The artist has done all the heavy lifting.
And how Zuraitis lifts.
With piano playing skills that are, frankly, shocking, Nicole Zuraitis creates a musical representation of all of the parts of her, perhaps all of the parts of the Race of Women. In her music one finds power, strength, sweetness, darkness, vulnerability, fragility, defiance, radiance, and mischief. Ms. Zuraitis uses her fingers on the piano to create the full range of emotions felt, but not always on exhibit, by the women of the world -- maybe even some of the men, too, and definitely the gender-fluid. Nicole Zuraitis sits behind her piano and delivers unto the world a musical representation of all of the feelings available to the human race if only each individual would reach out and embrace them.
Explaining at the top of her show that all of the songs being performed are by female songwriters, one discovers that the show is indeed one centered around Women's History Month - but everyone should hope that when March is over this show will be playing again for audiences to enjoy because Zuraitis has orchestrated an immaculate collection of music that travels through the decades, showcasing the immense talent of the women of the music industry, women who continue to fight for equality in pay and in recognition in a field where they have been leaders, giants, titans. Singing songs by Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Dorothy Fields, and Nina Simone, Zuraitis demonstrates an uncanny capacity for lending her singular sounding voice to any and every style that should come her way. She's a rock singer, she's a pop singer, she's a jazz singer, she's a blues singer, she's a country singer - it's like watching a concert being given by an artist with Multiple Personality Disorder, and it is a glorious blessing to meet all the people living inside the artist's head because each of them has talent beyond compare. Maybe it is just the ghosts of the female singer-songwriters who have come before her, filtering down throughout history until they have been distilled into one perfect woman singer-songwriter, and that woman is Nicole Zuraitis.
With the eye-opening talents of the women beside her on the stage of The Beach Cafe, Ms. Zuraitis presented a gasp-worthy display of musicianship with her tribute to the female singer-songwriters but, for this writer, the standouts of the evening included a spectacularly arranged mashup of "Ode to Billy Joe/Jolene" and the tenderly turned out "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" - and the surprise of the evening was a pretty little ditty by Zuraitis herself titled "Long Meadow Vine." Ok, let's pick one more because any time a singer decides to sing "No Ordinary Love" (Sade's best song ever) it's a good day.
Who am I kidding? Any time Nicole Zuraitis performs, period, it's a great day or great night, one filled with incredible music, enjoyable conversation, a learning moment or two, and some serious surprises (oh! Her encore!) that will all make audiences remember the time they spent with Nicole Zuraitis, and search for future opportunities to build more memorable moments with their new favorite female singer-songwriter-pianist.
Photos by Stephen Mosher