Billy Childs’ Map to the Treasure (Reimagining Laura Nyro) is an interesting and mostly solid jazz tribute to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro. Though the dazzling tracks that bookend the album far outshadow the rest.
Renee Fleming’s voice is a soaring, agile instrument on the opener, “New York Tendaberry.” Fleming may be an opera diva by trade, but her supernaturally gorgeous voice takes jazz and pop to other realms. I only wish she’d contributed more songs for this tribute.
Becca Stevens’ angelic soprano is juxtaposed nicely with a moody arrangement on “The Confession.”
“Stoned Soul Picnic” is my personal favorite Nyro track (thanks to its inclusion on an old pal’s mixtape), so I much prefer Nyro’s original over the Ledisi cover here.
Esperanza Spalding, Ricki Lee Jones and Shawn Colvin guest on other tracks. I love the piano on “To a Child,” but Dianne Reeves’ vocal arrangement is a bit too light and smooth for me. Overall the tribute is a bit too much of a soft jazz jam for my taste, but will probably appeal more to more diehard Childs and/or Nyro fans.
The final cover of “And When I Die” by Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas is as mesmeric as Renee Fleming’s opener. Those two songs need to be heard.
The worlds of Opera, Jazz and Poetry collide in the strking, haunting and very unusual song “Extinguish My Eyes, I’ll Go On Seeing You” featuring vocals by soprano Renée Fleming, music by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and lyrics taken from Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem of the same title. This exquisite cross-genre collaboration is on the duo’s Rilke-inspired album, Love Sublime. Renée Fleming is set to perform the National Anthem at the Superbowl.
Extinguish my eyes, I’ll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you.
And without feet I can make my way to you,
without a mouth I can swear your name.
Break off my arms, I’ll take hold of you
with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I found Renée Fleming’s 2005 release, Haunted Heart, while looking for different renditions of the song “My One and Only Love” and Renée’s voice bathed me in warmth. It’s an incredible performance of a song I’ve heard countless times before (runner up versions: Sting on the Leaving Las Vegas soundtrack and the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman collaboration). This collection showcases the lower, more intimate range of Renée’s voice. It’s essentially a vocal jazz album, though it does feature a few classical tracks.
Another highlight of the album is Renée’s rendering of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” which again for me transcends all other covers. The arrangement is sparse, and Renée pours her soul into the song.
“You’ve Changed” is injected with a level of desperation and yearning that previous versions fail to match, even Billie Holiday’s. Renée’s version reminds me of the saddest story I’ve ever heard – The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde (which you can hear me read here).
Mahler‘s arrangement of “Liebst du um Schönheit” fits remarkably well alongside these pop and jazz classics. Accompanying Renée on Haunted Heart are legendary guitarist Bill Frisell and Fred Hersch on piano.
I don’t appreciate Renée’s 2010 pop album, Dark Hope, quite as much, but it’s also worth checking out for her versions of “Mad World” (Tears for Fears/Gary Jules) and “Endlessly” (Muse).
We were not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples of each track at the link below…