(expanded version of CD review in the June 2015 DownBeat)
Palmetto PM 2176
The heartbreak of losing one’s child is almost unfathomable. Singer Chris McNulty lost her son Sam McNulty – a.k.a. Chap One, a promising, jazz-influenced hip-hop artist – suddenly and tragically in 2011 at age 30. McNulty has put all she has learned over half a lifetime of jazz singing and songwriting into this exquisite chamber jazz CD, mining her pain, purifying its essence, and transforming it into an expression of haunted devotion.
The Australian-born, New York City-based jazz singer, well-known in her native country and a veteran performer on the international jazz scene, has an unaccountably low profile in the States. She has many gifts as a performer: a rich warm tone, an adventurous spirit, and a direct channel to the emotional core of a lyric. But, beyond the poignant subject matter, what makes this CD a milestone in her recording career is the combination of McNulty’s talents with those of two expert collaborators: pianist/arranger John Di Martino and her fellow Australian, orchestrator Steve Newcomb, who leads an excellent chamber ensemble in sensitive, imaginative arrangements dotted with excellent solos by bassoonist Ben Wendel, flugelhorn player Matthew Jodrell, and McNulty’s husband John Bollenback on guitar. Di Martino’s occasional well thought-out piano solos are just about perfect.
The lyrics here are intensely personal, but the songs McNulty selected for this tribute album, after culling through hundreds of candidates, are not all dark. They include rarities like Steve Kuhn’s “The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers,” striking arrangements of more familiar tunes like Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” and “Nature Boy,” and a finely wrought version of Bob Dorough’s “Love Came On Stealthy Fingers.” They illuminate the grief, but also the joyful memories of a special child. Yet the very essence of the album is best expressed in McNulty’s one original, the intensely moving “You Are There” (not to be confused with Dave Frishberg’s song of the same name), which includes the lines, “Wherever I go, you are there / The scent of your soul, it will always be there.” On this CD, McNulty bares her soul, and one doesn’t dare look away.
Eternal: The Saga Of Harrison Crabfeathers; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life; Where Is Love; You Are There; Star Dust; Nature Boy; Yesterday I Heard The Rain; Love Came On Stealthy Fingers; On A Clear Day; With Every Breath I Take; Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Personnel: Chris McNulty, vocals; John Di Martino, piano, trio arrangements; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums; Paul Bollenback, guitar (1, 10); Mazz Swift, Josh Henderson, Amanda Lo, violins; Trevor New, viola; Meaghan Burke, Marika Hughes, cellos; Jodie Rottle, flue, alto flute; Ivan Barenboim, clarinet, bass clarinet; John Morgan-Bush, French horn; Ben Wendel, bassoon; Matthew Jodrell, flugelhorn (3, 9).
Ordering info: chrismcnulty.com