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Billy Childs - Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (2014)

8-09-2014, 15:36
Music | Jazz | Vocal Jazz | Pop

Billy Childs - Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (2014)

Artist: Billy Childs
Title Of Album: Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro
Year Of Release: 2014
Genre: Jazz/Pop Vocals
Label: Sony Masterworks
Format: MP3
Quality: 320 kbps, 44.1 Khz
Total Time: 61:10
Total Size: 143 Mb
Covers: Front

01. New York Tendaberry (Feat. Renee Fleming & Yo-Yo Ma) (7:18)
02. The Confession (Feat. Becca Stevens) (4:39)
03. Map To The Treasure (Feat. Lisa Fischer) (7:15)
04. Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp (Feat. Esperanza Spalding & Wayne Shorter) (5:17)
05. Been On A Train (Feat. Rickie Lee Jones & Chris Potter) (6:20)
06. Stoned Soul Picnic (Feat. Ledisi) (4:26)
07. Gibsom Street (Feat. Susan Tedeschi & Steve Wilson) (6:27)
08. Save The Country (Feat. Shawn Colvin & Chris Botti) (7:30)
09. To A Child (Feat. Dianne Reeves) (5:45)
10. And When I Die (Feat. Alison Krauss & Jerry Douglas) (6:08)

Laura Nyro was an intensely emotional powerhouse of a singer-songwriter who, over the course of a 30-year career, wrote huge hits for others. One measure of her impact is that, for two weeks in 1969, she had written three songs in Billboard’s Top 10. Yet, as a performer, she never won a Grammy award or earned a Top 40 single before her untimely death in 1997 at the age of 49.

A new album of her songs by Grammy-winning composer-pianist Billy Childs and all-star cast of singers and musicians seems likely to win Nyro new fans and reinvigorate her musical legacy.

Much more than a tribute album, Map To The Treasure: Laura Nyro Reimagined (Sony Masterworks), which is set for release on Sept. 9, boldly reinterprets and recontextualizes her songs, drawing on jazz and chamber music, while retaining the joyous blend of Brill Building pop, soul, gospel and jazz that made Nyro such an original.

Although she never won more than a fervent cult following as a singer and performer, almost everyone has heard the great covers of Nyro songs like The 5th Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Wedding Bell Blues”; Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “And When I Die”; Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Comin’”; and Barbra Streisand’s “Stoney End.” Yet her most lasting legacy might be her influence on a generation of pop and jazz innovators: Joni Mitchell, Donald Fagen, Rickie Lee Jones, Todd Rundgren and Elton John have all acknowledged her as an inspiration.

Also among her early fans were two 16-year-old, budding jazz musicians from Los Angeles: Childs and a young bass player named Larry Klein, who had met in a music theory workshop for musically gifted high schoolers at USC. After class, the two friends found inspiration listening to Nyro records together; they would later play together as sidemen for Freddie Hubbard in the late 1970s. (“Larry got me on that gig,” Childs said recently.)

After that, their musical paths diverged: Childs became a jazz pianist and composer of chamber and symphonic music, while Klein found fame as a producer for Mitchell and other pop and jazz artists. The Nyro project, with Childs arranging and playing keyboards, and Klein producing, is their first collaboration since touring with Hubbard.

The friends have assembled an impressive cast of singers for the project, including Jones, Esperanza Spalding, Renée Fleming (who sings the aria-like “New York Tendaberry”), Alison Krauss, Dianne Reeves, Ledisi, Becca Stevens, Shawn Colvin, Susan Tedeschi and Lisa Fischer (of 20 Feet from Stardom fame).

Guest musicians on the album include soloists Yo-Yo Ma (who accompanies Fleming), Wayne Shorter, Chris Botti, Jerry Douglas, Chris Potter and Steve Wilson, along with the inspired pianism of Childs and a band that includes drummers Brian Blade, Jay Bellerose and Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Scott Colley and guitarist Dean Parks.

Klein has ample experience producing large, complex projects; he co-produced River: The Joni Letters with Herbie Hancock, which won the Album of the Year Grammy in 2008. That record explored the jazz implications of Mitchell’s songs and led to a greater acceptance of her as a composer of jazz standards; this album could do something similar for Nyro.

In scoring a suite of Nyro songs, Childs drew upon his background in both jazz and classical formats—he has written works for orchestras, including the L.A. Philharmonic as well as leading his own chamber jazz group.

The result is full of revelatory moments including inspired soloing by Shorter to adorn Spalding’s pure vocal in “Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp”; Botti’s mournful trumpet elegy in the introduction to a solemn, orchestral interpretation of “Save The Country” (sung with feeling by Colvin); and the way “Stoned Soul Picnic,” fully inhabited by r&b singer Ledisi, morphs at the end into a funky, boppish piano solo.

When selecting songs for the album, Childs chose to explore Nyro’s Gothic imagination, which may surprise fans of her more familiar and sunnier melodies. “Her songs are like part of one long opera,” he said by phone from Los Angeles, “where there are these recurring characters—God and the Devil, her father, her mother, her friends, men who have done her wrong and men who are good. It’s like a great novel.”

He said he felt compelled to include not only some of the hits, like “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Save The Country,” but also very dark songs that confront the world’s evils, like the heroin ballad “Been On A Train,” harrowingly realized by Jones; and “Gibsom Street,” whose chilling lyrics, sung by a world-weary Tedeschi (sample verse: “Don’t go to Gibsom cross the river/ The devil is hungry, the devil is sweet/ If you are soft then you will shiver/ They hang the alley cats on Gibsom Street”), reminds Childs of German expressionist films like M or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Childs enjoyed working with his old friend Klein. One example of their collaboration was rethinking the song “Save The Country.” Nyro’s version had an optimism—it was like a rallying song for the nation’s spirits following the assassinations of President Kennedy; his brother Robert Kennedy; and Dr. Martin Luther King. Childs said, “I loved the tunefulness and the upbeat quality of her version, but Larry had an idea: He said, ‘Why don’t we do it with a more somber approach, as though we’re looking back on the past 40 years, and the country has gone to hell in a handbasket?’ It’s more of a desperate plea, so I approached it that way. And it was a great idea.”

Childs knew he faced a tremendous challenge in reimagining Nyro’s work. “How do you improve on something that’s already perfect?” Childs asked. “The point for me is not to improve on it, because you can’t. But I love this music so much, and it’s had such a profound effect on me, that I want to put it through the prism of my own experience.”

This is not your mother’s Laura Nyro record, but “red-yellow honey, sassafras and moonshine” for a new generation. —Allen Morrison

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