Losing a child. The pain can't be explained, although a close personal friend of ours lost their first born during childbirth. After the months of preparation, the painting of rooms, the choosing of a name. In response to their loss, they built a gorgeous rose garden, and placed poetic emblems on the back fence. And our friendship was was re-established through many long suppers and after- dinner jazz listening sessions, our families spending time just being with each other.
So as I listen to Eternal by Chris McNulty
I am hearing her pain in every beautiful vocalization, in the absolute care taken in the song selection, orchestrations and performances by her collaborators.
So much flows through our frail emotional tent during times of personal loss, and McNulty dedicated this album to her son Sam who was lost to this world and to Chris in 2011.
I could review this recording on musical merits alone, because it is exquisite, but there is no separating this collection of music from Sam, which explains my long intro.
The album melds the chamber ensemble arrangements of orchestrator Steve Newcombe with pianist Di Martino and the combo of Ugonna Okegwo
and Gregory Hutchinson
on bass and drums respectively.
"I'm a musician first, so the songs have to speak to me musically, melodically, emotionally and lyrically as they always would. I just chose the songs that made the most sense for telling Sam's story."
Steve Kuhn's "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers" was the first tune Chris found during an arduous search for the right songs (which frustratingly coincided with hurricane Sandy, and 8 days without power.)
"Wishing that the sadness had not come for its claim so soon
One life is so short, so many things left to say and do"
is an example of how that lyric applied to Chris. Classic love songs such as "Nature Boy" take on new meaning in this context. McNulty applies poignant jazz chops to the vocal, while accomplishing the impossible, the expression of her story through song.
"Yesterday I Heard the Rain," "Where is Love," "On a Clear Day..." all the performances take on with subtlety the telling of Sam's story through his mother's musicality.
The sensitivity of the bass and drums on all the tunes form a sort of airy blanket on which the magic can rest. From the fine Acoustic guitar work on the opener, to the ensemble work on "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing," "You are There," "Star Dust" and others, the listener knows they're in a sacred place.
As I look at the progression of tunes from beginning to end, I can feel a story being told. A possible glimpse of light in "On a Clear Day," until the finale "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Are there any pieces left? We hear a mother crying out in jazz stylings that make listeners rethink the meaning of why we love jazz. Eternal is both easy to love, and profoundly touching.
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; Stardust; 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.
Chris McNulty: vocals; Steve Newcomb: orchestrations (1-11), arrangements (4-6); Mazz Swift: violin; Josh Henderson: violin; Amanda Lo: violin; Trevor New: viola; Meaghan Burke: cello; Marika Hughes: cello; Jodie Rottle: flute, alto flute; Ivan Barenboim: clarinet, bass clarinet; John Morgan-Bush: French horn; Ben Wendel: bassoon; John Di Martino: trio arrangements (1-3, 7-12); John Di Martino: piano; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Gregory Hutchinson: drums; Paul Bollenback: guitar; Matthew Jodrell: trumpet.