Vocalist Chris McNulty claims that she never sings a song unless she can connect with it personally and make it truly her own. The selection of repertoire for her seventh CD, Eternal, carried an even more deeply personal requirement, however: celebrating the life of McNulty's cherished son Sam, who passed away in 2011.
The gorgeously heartfelt and emotionally moving album, to be released on Palmetto Records, is a sublime love letter expressing the ineradicable bond between mother and child, with an exquisite blend of jazz quintet and chamber ensemble.
To craft the lush and poignant sound of Eternal, McNulty worked closely with two gifted collaborators: orchestrator Steve Newcomb, who created the album's stunning arrangements for chamber ensemble; and pianist John Di Martino, who last worked with McNulty on her 2005 release Dance Delicioso.
The stellar trio with Di Martino on piano, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Gregory Hutchinson provides sensitive support for the singer's eloquent vocals. Jazz combo and chamber orchestra meld beautifully and seamlessly throughout, focused wholly on enhancing the profound feeling of McNulty's vocals. And present throughout is the spirit of Sam McNulty (aka hip-hop artist-composer Chap One), whose life, and the impact that it made on that of his mother, is vividly illustrated. "There are lots of ways that I can honor Sam," McNulty says. "I looked through thousands of tunes to find things that spoke to me about life in general and life after Sam, about how I was unraveling inside, and that I thought could speak to him or about him without it becoming a morose, sad story. I think the music has lots of brightness and joy in it, too. 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."
Adding to the emotionally arduous process of assembling material for Eternal was the fact that McNulty was poring over songbooks in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when she was left without electricity, heat, or running water for eight days. So she sat in front of the fireplace with dozens of songbooks strewn about the floor around her, searching for lyrics and melodies that spoke to her by the glow of candlelight.
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