BWW Review: Nicole Zuraitis hypnotizes Jazz fans at Birdland Theatre
Nicole Zuraitis is one of those rare performers that grips you tremendously with her otherworldly voice, but also comes off as immensely relatable. Even from on stage, it feels like being with a friend who's mostly comfortable in her skin, but is also like, "Grammy-nominated, what? I did that." That's right, though Zuraitis didn't walk away with the hardware last year, her performance again of "Jolene" reminded a dazzled audience that the Blues can be as passionate as any type of music. Even then, it doesn't seem like the success has seeped in fully, or that Zuraitis is resting on her laurels. With a slight tweak and some thoughtful lyrics, she turned "Chelsea Bridge" by Billy Strayhorn into something potentially tremendous. "Funny, love came to Chelsea," she sang and her fingers danced along the piano in place of the standard's moving saxophone, before the mic picked up her next few lines, "hidden by gin and wine/wouldn't a kiss be fine."
Teaming up with Inbar Paz on the double bass, Dan Pugach on the drums, and with her latest special guest, Dave Stryker, on the guitar, Zuraitis's show started off strong and kept providing new moments to enjoy throughout her set. It's fitting that after her performance of the iconic, "On the Street Where You Live" that she would include the Claude Debussy song, "Reverie," for that was what this show simply was. The audience merely reveled in the privilege of being entertained. Zuraitis finds a way to make Blues not so blue and in doing so, I feel like she opens up a unique type of experience for the jazz connoisseur. A jazz lover would surely be hypnotized into an hour or two slipping away even when the lyrics are those of "Ode to Billie Joe." Despite the lines, "Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge/and now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge," the song did not feel as melancholic as the words would appear.
Inbar Paz also proved once again that she is one of the most talented double bassists performing jazz today. Her solos are exquisite, and she belongs to a select class. Additionally, Stryker showed he could be a little bit mad scientist putting "The Surrey With a Fringe on Top" into one of his early jazz solos. Ultimately, Zuraitis once again showed that she can churn through a couple hours of tunes and keep the audience engaged. Her positive attitude infects despite the nature of the music, and she's found her niche in jazz without playing fifteen standards in a row. Zuraitis mixed in a few originals, some unique arrangements, and stepped out from behind the piano a few times to really strut her stuff. Keep an eye on Zuraitis!