October 11, 2007
Producer/musician’s journey brings him home
(Page 2 - Previous Page)However, more than anyone, Klein credits Mitchell with teaching him the most important parts of producing: "How to say what, when" (which Klein admits he sometimes learned the hard way); and "how to adeptly bring out the best in an artist that they can possibly put forward at a given juncture in their career and artistic development."
Although Klein and Mitchell divorced in 1994, they have continued to work together -- and the current projects are evidence of that.
The idea behind "River: The Joni Letters," Klein says, was that "we wanted the entire record to emanate from the poetry." Klein and Hancock spent two months on preproduction, winnowing down a list of songs, talking about the lyrics, and discussing the best singers for the songs, who came to include Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, Souza and Tina Turner (who, as far as I am concerned is the big surprise here, turning in a vocal performance that recalls Ella Fitzgerald), along with a reading by Leonard Cohen that Hancock improvises around. The recording also includes Mitchell singing on "Tea Leaf Prophecy," a song she wrote with Klein about her parents' courtship.
Several of the tracks are instrumental, and in these, as in all the tracks, Klein and Hancock sought to "get away from conventional Jazz structure," which Klein characterized as "melody, solo, solo, solo, play the melody and out."
"We approached this more as a dialogue," Klein told me. The album, Klein explained, is "geared toward Joni's world" and includes two songs not written by Mitchell but "that were important songs in her musical development."
One is "Solitude," by Duke Ellington, which Mitchell first heard as a 9-year-old. As sung by Billie Holiday, "it kind of set off something inside her." The other is "Nefertiti," by Wayne Shorter; Mitchell heard Miles Davis' version, Klein said, and "it's one of those records that knocks you on your ass, and you think, 'Wow!'"
Klein sees Souza's "The New Bossa Nova" as a companion piece to the Hancock recording: "Both records come from the same germ." He believes that as listeners, we get inured to the lyrics in great songs, and that setting them in a new musical context -- "recontextualizing them" -- makes us appreciate the lyrics anew.
So Klein and Hancock turned to jazz for Mitchell, and Klein and Souza looked to 1960s bossa nova style to recast the songs of such great contemporary American songwriters as Sting, Brian Wilson and James Taylor (who duets with Souza on his song "Never Die Young"). Souza also bridges the span between Brazil and America with a gorgeous English language version of Jobim's gem "The Waters of March."
Klein and Souza just celebrated their first wedding anniversary. They met when Souza, who is the daughter of Brazilian songwriters Walter Santos and Teresa Souza, performed as a soloist at Walt Disney Hall in a piece written by Billy Childs, one of Klein's former classmates from The Community School program. They were married here in Los Angeles by Rabbi Mordecai Finley. Souza, who became a Jew-by-choice under Finley's tutelage, gives the following credit on her album: "To Mordecai Finley, for the beacon."
At which point Klein offered up the story of his own spiritual journey. "
I went to Hebrew school and got bar mitzvahed, and after getting bar mitzvahed, I could not get away fast enough," he replied.
Although Klein describes himself as being of "a spiritual bent" and "spiritually curious," he found that the Judaism he was taught was "so by rote and so devoid of any pragmatic application or real etymological tying-in to how these ideas should be interpreted, that I could see nothing about it that was interesting." Instead he became interested in Buddhism, which he studied for many years.
"I was most interested in Tibetan Buddhism, but never found a community in that tradition that felt really honestly viable for me," he said.
Several years ago, while working with Rebecca Pidgeon on her album, over the course of many philosophical discussions she suggested to Klein that he might attend a Sabbath service with her and her husband, David Mamet, at Ohr HaTorah, with Finley.
"I was just astounded," Klein says. In Finley, Klein found "someone teaching who really understood the philosophical implications of the Torah and also the metaphoric subtleties. The way that Finley spoke of Judaism and Torah was, in Klein's words, "a whole new thing for me." After a few more visits, Klein went to Ohr HaTorah for the High Holy Days.
"I thought, 'Wow!'" Klein recalled, "Isn't it ironic that this is what I was looking for?"
As I said earlier, recontextualizing has been very, very good for Klein. And for all of us, the beneficiaries of "The Joni Letters," "The New Bossa Nova," and all the rivers of music that Klein has to share.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.
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