As an artist rooted in jazz, pianist and arranger Billy Childs knows that the best way to honor another musician is not to try to recreate their sound. On his new concept album exploring the music of Laura Nyro, he takes a deeply personal journey on which many paths converge.
Working with producer Larry Klein -- who’s known for his collaborations with A-list singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin, Melody Gardot, and Luciana Souza -- Childs arranges 10 poetically charged tunes by Nyro, whose death from cancer in 1997 still feels raw.
From the blockbuster opening track featuring the great soprano Renée Fleming tearing through “New York Tendaberry” with Yo-Yo Ma’s unmistakably lyrical cello, it’s clear this is an opulent project overstuffed with talent, emotion and musical ideas.
Superficially, “Map to the Treasure” resembles Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning 2007 album “River: The Joni Letters,” which was also produced by Klein. But Hancock was essentially discovering Joni Mitchell’s music. For Childs, a faithful Nyro fan who turned Klein onto her music when they were teenagers in the early ‘70s, the project cuts deeply, like only the music of your adolescence can. Their mutual love of Nyro’s songs provides a perfect meeting ground, like the dreamy dance between Esperanza Spalding’s vocals and Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax on “Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp.”