It's always a daunting task for a singer to tackle the classic American songbook, and standard tunes such as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or "Fly Me to the Moon," that everyone from Anita O'Day to Jackie Wilson has covered. But to do it for a first album, as local jazz singer Nicole Henry has done with The Nearness of You, is downright quixotic. Those chops better be well honed, since comparisons with better-known interpreters are inevitable. Fortunately Henry has the chops, to which anyone who has caught one of her shows around town can attest, and she tackles this material with breezy aplomb.
Recorded live in the upstairs jazz lounge of the Van Dyke Café, The Nearness of You is warm and intimate, featuring Henry and pianist Mike Orta's frolicking riffs in a playful dance with bassist Paul Shewchuk and drummer Danny Burger. The Gershwin classic "Summertime" is especially satisfying, capturing the subtleties and nuances of her rich and sultry voice as she propels the song along in a jazzy swing. Meanwhile the contemporary R&B standard "Get Here" makes you think of a young Whitney Houston, as Henry's voice flutters with bluesy inflections. Overall the CD is solid from beginning to end, and it leaves you wanting more from this local girl made good. -- John Anderson