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For some, Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin documents a great artist in decline. For others, like vocalist Christine Correa, it’s an exemplar of pathos and heartache. “Although her vocal strength is waning by this point, she reaches a pinnacle in her expressive powers,” Correa says. “If I had to look for music with deep emotional impact, I would gravitate to Lady in Satin.”No surprise, then, that Correa chose to interpret songs from that album for When Soft Rains Fall (Red Piano), a duo recording with her longtime collaborator Ran Blake, the legendary pianist known for his cinematic style. Correa notes that Holiday handpicked each of the songs specifically for their lyrics. While Holiday’s interpretations were imbued with her life experiences, Correa was going for a more direct approach. “For me, I was just really trying to interpret the lyrics, and trying to deliver them in a way that felt true,” she says. “It’s like speech really, the way I would articulate in speech. To me, singing is just an extension of one’s speaking voice. I just wanted to make sure the words were clear and delivering it as honestly as possible.”Indeed, Correa’s speaking voice is every bit as mellifluous as her singing voice (you can hear it for yourself on “The Day Lady Died”). Or as Blake put it in a separate phone interview, “Her voice is the salt of the earth.”He would know. Their friendship goes back to August 1979, when Correa moved from her native Mumbai to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, where Blake was the founding chair of what is now called the Contemporary Improvisation Department. Since then, they’ve recorded six albums together. That long-running connection often leads to unexpected musical directions. Their take on “I’ll Be Around,” for example, ended up having a much more playful air than Correa had anticipated.
[caption id="attachment_32489" align="alignleft" width="748"] Ran Blake[/caption]
“If we do multiple takes of the same song, they tend to be so completely different that choosing the right take is more about choosing the flavor rather than which take was impeccably executed,” Correa says. “The way Ran plays, with his unique style and his approach, the music always goes deeper somehow.” At 85, Blake is getting a lot of mileage out of his enduring relationships. He’s also recently released Gray Moon (Red Piano), a duo recording with pianist Frank Carlberg, another frequent collaborator. The connection runs deeper — Blake introduced Carlberg and Correa to each other at NEC. Now they’re married with two children, both of whom currently attend NEC. “It’s just an incredible experience working with both of them,” Blake says of Carlberg and Correa. “Both of them are very important in my life, and I really treasure my friendships with them.” —John Frederick Moore