What’s not to excite and like: phenomenal songs; stellar cast; heartfelt homage? Laura Nyro’s intense and emotive pop/soul originals will not be bettered, but the interpretations refracted through both Billy Childs’ jazz overview and varying artists’ expertise are bound to dazzle. And they do, every time. Opener New York Tendaberry with soprano Renée Fleming and cellist Yo-Yo Ma embraces the pop pomp with palpable emotion; fourth Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp has Esperanza Spalding’s voice dancing romantically with Wayne Shorter’s saxophone across Child’s lush piano floor; fifth Been on a Train is graced with the empathetic street-sass vocal of Rickie Lee Jones, and sixth Stoned Soul Picnic [such a classic song] gets a beautiful soulful update from the singer Ledisi – breaking into jazz-funk when moving beyond those further lush orchestrations.
It simply continues brilliantly, but I just paused for breath. Seventh is the glorious Gibson Street sung as a powerful jazz ballad by Susan Tedeschi, sans guitar, and the album closes on tenth And When I Die with Alison Krauss contributing her distinctive gentle vocal caress, and Jerry Douglas providing his trademark dobro – this Country pair adding to the ample evidence that Nyro’s songwriting asserts itself powerfully and movingly within any presentation.