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In Conversation With Legendary Producer Larry Klein

04/05/2013 18:58 BST | Updated 03/07/2013 10:12 BST
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As Madeleine Peyroux brings her latest recording The Blue Room to a sold out performance at the Cheltenham Jazz festival, I speak with the album's multi talented producer Larry Klein.

A quietly powerful force within the music industry, Klein has played on and produced some of the music world's greatest ever sounds, from Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell to Tracy Chapman and Melody Gardot among a long list of others.

He is the man who in 2000 brilliantly fused Vince Mendosa's angelic string arrangements with Joni Mitchell's voice (Both Sides Now), the producer of Hancock's Grammy award winning Imagine project and one of the first to recognise Peyroux's truly unique, one off talent.

'The Blue Room is my fourth album with Madeleine' the Grammy award winner tells me, speaking of 'a great shared syntax' with the soulful singer.

Describing Madeleine as 'fascinating, bright and completely intuitive in everything she does..' Klein speaks of creatively fruitful studio sessions with a the 'boundry challenging' artist. 'She is still a street singer in a lot of ways..' he says affectionately, 'my job is to spot and amplify the magic'

The universally praised Blue Room came about when Klein acted upon a life long fascination with Ray Charles's classic 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, undoubtedly one of the greatest recordings ever released.

'Ray Charles's album has been a record I loved since I can remember, it was always a part of me..when I realised that no one has ever reexamined this 'cultural landmark', the thought of a fresh musical exploration started to simmer in my head and I wondered about presenting the project to Madeline. Country songs often seem kind of cheerful on the surface but there is a dark undertone to them' reflects Klein, 'it occurred to me that Madeleine can get to something melancholy in a none literal way.'

After bouncing the songs back and forth, Klein and Peyroux decided to branch out to other songs and 'take the project out from being strictly Ray Charles'

I ask Larry about the art of interpretation, a craft for which Madeleine has a name for with some truly remarkable recordings, including Leonard Cohen's timeless Dance Me to the End of Love.

'Interpretations can be challenging' he replies, 'you don't want to just recreate the original, I want nostalgia in the sub text but want to create something completely new and Madeleine understands that..there are times when it takes some time to get at the magic of interpreting a song but I know it does come, so like a snake charmer you nudge and say something that will direct the singer until it connects'

I congratulate Klein on his part in the young singer's success; Madeleine now has an admirably loyal fan base as well as the often vocal genuine appreciation of her peers, many of whom consider her 'a born classic'. Her new rendition of Changing All Those Changes (The Blue Room) has made it into BBC Radio 2's main playlist and her sold out performance at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival is broadcast live on the popular station.

I tell Klein that his intelligent encouragement of Peyroux's sense of musical exploration is bearing fruit, noting the inspired addition of Vince Mendoza's strings to the new album as an example. Mendoza's hauntingly beautiful arrangements have turned Joni Michelle's Both Sides Now into an iconic classic and Klein has called upon his talent for other projects over the years.

'Vince understands that interpretation is dangerous in some way' says Klein as he reflects on Mendoza's sensitive string arrangement for Cohen's Bird on the wire'. Madeleine's engaging new rendition of the song marks a return to Leonard Cohen poetry for the two, a fascinating link that has its roots in 2004's Dance Me To The End Of Love (Careless Love).

The Blue Room carries Madeleine's trade mark charmingly engaging, soulful spirit. Hearing her rendition of Changing All The Changes played on Jamie Cullum's BBC2 show next to Jazz's all time greats is a testimony to her impressive achievement.

Cullum's praise of her interpretation which came with a warm recommendation to see her live speaks volumes. Thumbs up to the BBC for the live broadcast of Madeleine's Cheltenham festival set and for including the song on the popular station's playlist. Besides showing great musical taste, the BBC is helping spread the word of simply awesome music and for that we should be thankful.