Pasadena’s most unique orchestra, MUSE/IQUE, returned for live performances Wednesday—after more than a year of online and driveway performances—for an homage and a loving de-construction of Carole King’s seminal 1971 album, “Tapestry,” in a new home at the Celebration Court of the Chinese Garden in Huntington Gardens.
A 25-piece orchestra was augmented by the a capella group, Aurora , as well as singers Sy Smith, Courtney Fortune, and Ashley Faatoalia, for the evening—the first segment of the 2021 summer/fall series, “LA Composed: A Festival of Los Angeles Music”
Opening the evening with “I Feel the Earth Move,” the orchestra showed its intent early, as the opening track was given an earthy, urban groove, a far cry from the sparse, piano-led rock instrumentation of the original album. Vocalist Smith took the lead, as she would a number of times throughout the evening, offering her own touch, but remaining true to the melodies and spirit.
Aurora then delivered a soothing “Up on A Roof,” one of King’s scores of hit songs written for others in her career, along with her husband Jerry Goffin. In fact, the “Tapestry” album represented a whole new career for King who had primarily seen herself as a writer for others, and less as a solo performer.
As artistic director Rachael Worby told the tale, King was supported by her friend James Taylor, who one evening on a college tour, asked King to solo on a tune at her alma mater, Queens College. This gave her the confidence to believe she could indeed set out on her own path.
King went on to become the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the US, having written or co-written 118 pop hits which appeared on the Billboard Hot 100.
Vocalist Fortune gave “So Far Away,” a caressing treatment, surrounded by an elegant woodwind ensemble, while “It’s Too Late,” had a gritty bass-heavy groove, at first unrecognizable from the ubiquitous early ‘70s radio staple.
Bassist Michael Valerio filled the role of the original bell-like piano for the album’s title track, chording his six-string electric bass almost like a classical guitar as he provided the only accompaniment for Sy Smith’s dramatic vocals.
The evening ended with King’s “Natural Woman,” which according to King, was requested by producer Jerry Wexler as he spotted King and husband Goffin walking down Broadway in New York City.
“I need a hit song for Aretha Franklin!,” Wexler shouted out the window of his Cadillac. “Call it ‘Natural Woman,’” he said.
They did. Aretha recorded it. The rest became the future, and as the orchestra and singers burst into the chorus at the Huntington on Wednesday evening, history and future became the present, fifty years later.