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Spotlight Project: Chris McNulty Eternal
Vocalist Chris McNulty contends 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 March 24, 2015 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: orchestratorSteve 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, bassistUgonna 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.”
McNulty was reunited with Di Martino on one of her first evenings out in New York City following Sam’s passing. Unaware that the pianist was performing that night, she was reminded of his virtuosity on the bandstand – and of his humanity when he approached her after the set. “He walked over and put his arms around me and didn’t say a word,” she recalls. “That had a profound impact. A lot of people don’t know what to say or do, and sometimes it’s better not to say anything. It struck me that he handled it so gracefully, and it showed what a sensitive human being he is.”
Since her emergence on the international jazz scene in 1991, Chris McNulty has been hailed by musicians, peers and critics alike as a jazz vocalist-composer with a unique vision, boundless creative energy and a distinctive style. Her recordings and performances have garnered 4 and 5 star reviews in publications including DownBeat, The Irish Times, Jazz Wise, Jazz Journal and JazzTimes, among many others. In May 2013, McNulty won the prestigious Australian Bell Award (the equivalent of a US Grammy) for Best Vocal Jazz Album for The Song That Sings You Here. She has collaborated, recorded and performed with some of the finest musicians on the jazz scene today and performed at major international festivals around the world.