Wilson, Batalla go ‘art-pop’ for Big Stars, Bright Nights | ParkRecord.com

Wilson, Batalla go ‘art-pop’ for Big Stars, Bright Nights

Scott Iwasaki

As a coincidental musical prelude to the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, Deer Valley will come alive on Thursday, July 30, with an eclectic night of "art-pop" jazz when Anna Wilson, Perla Batalla and Esperanza Spaldling take the stage.

Both Batalla and Wilson talked with The Park Record and said they are looking forward to their return to Park City.

While they haven’t worked together before, they have both performed in Park City and have both performed with Spalding on different projects.

Perla Batalla, chance taker

"Esperanza is someone who veers away from labels and she’s amazingly creative and free that way," Batalla said. "I’ve done other events with her and she’s very inspiring for me. One was in Santa Monica, which was very jazz. She was with her group that was very experimental, but this one will be more "art-pop." So it will be interesting and I think we’re going to mix it up."

Batalla is excited to play her set.

"I’m looking forward to Park City," she said. "I’ve never been there in the summer. I’ve always performed there in the winter, so I can’t wait."

Accompanying her will be troubadour Tom Prasada-Rao.

"I’m so lucky to bump into him," she said. "We have come up with a set that includes some original music of mine and I thought doing some Leonard Cohen would be fun. I love singing Leonard Cohen. It’s kind of an obsession for me, I must say."

Batalla, who was one of Cohen’s backup singer before he encouraged her to embark on a solo career, released a Cohen tribute album, "Bird on the Wire," in 2007.

"Leonard was my first big professional gig when I went on tour with him in 1988," Batalla said. "He became a great mentor to me. Of course, it is obvious that the music, his songs, are so complex and amazing.

"They are like good classical pieces," she said. "So, whenever I sing a Cohen song, I learn something new. Also, the songs also lend themselves to different treatments. In performing these songs this way, they develop new colors and new images are born."

Batalla and Prasada-Rao selected a general list, but the two will finalize it when they meet in Park City next week.

"We rehearsed in Boston, last week and went through a lot of songs because we won’t see each other until we’re in Utah," she said. "So, the idea was to see what particularly grabs us when we get there."

Like her song lists, Batalla’s musical goals have gone through changes over the years.

"I feel as an artist that I, if everything is going as they should, should be constantly evolving," she explained. "I started out really idealistically. I had some fabulous music teachers as a kid and my father was a musician. So, my expectations were pretty high about how it all should go.

"But [music] is art, so any ideas that you have about how things should go should be thrown out because they don’t have anything to do with what you will do," Batalla said with a laugh. "So, during the past couple of years, I decided to lose the comfort of playing with people who I’ve played with over the years."

The singer wanted to get on the road, take some chances and meet new collaborators.

"It’s been eye opening, nerve-wracking and scary, but in the end it’s been satisfying and rewarding," she said.

Two years ago, Batalla began writing songs about artists Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, who were known for their volatile marriage as much as they were for their art.

"[When I was branching out,] I felt I was near the level of danger that they both had as artists, except for the fact that I love my life and I don’t take the kinds of chances they did," Batalla said, laughing again. "I like having a really sweet, nice husband and I like having a happy home and not being a drug addict and alcoholic. So, I take my chances artistically and have wild moments."

In addition to taking artistic chances, Batalla also does outreach and charity work. She’s worked with prison inmates and teens are challenged by their sexual orientations.

She is also the recipient of the United Nations Earth Charter Award for extraordinary devotion to social and economic justice and was given the Border Book Festival’s Premio Fronterizo Award for healing work in the world.

"I think I’ve gotten back way more than I have given when you talk about outreach," she said. "I’ve been in prisons and started out feeling that the atmosphere is dangerous and negative, but ended with all of us sharing poems and seeing the real people.

"I always want to give love," Batalla said. "I’ve learned that’s what people respond to and the only thing that can change lives."

Anna Wilson, the experimenter

Anna Wilson, who called The Park Record from her mountain home in Huntsville, performed with Spalding when the Park City Jazz Festival was still active.

"Years ago, we played together in 2009, so, this is kind of a nice way to revisit that billing in the same venue," she said. "It’s always great to perform alongside other artists. I don’t really know Perla, but I’m familiar with her music and I’m excited to get to know her."

Wilson plans to perform some new songs from her most recent album, "Jazzbird/Songbird."

"I’m excited to bring that music for the first time to Utah in the beautiful mountain setting," she said. "The album was released in October and this is the first summer tour since the record has been released."

The album’s concept emerged from the old-school format of vinyl records having a side A and a side B.

"The first five songs on the disc are the jazz side of my artistry and the last five songs are the singer and songwriter side," Wilson said. "I always try to find an interesting angle that will make the musical experience interesting for the listener as well as for myself while making the record."

The jazz songs are inspired by the Great American Songbook and the other half are inspired by the song "Songbird" by Christine McVie from Fleetwood Mac.

"I have this songwriter side of me and it’s important to me to have that voice as well," Wilson said. "The record is like a journey moving from jazzbird to songbird."

doing this, Wilson got in touch with her first influences, the singers and songwriters from the 1960s and 1970s.

"They included Carole King, Laura Nyro, Jackson Browne and The Eagles," she said. "Of course, I was influenced from a melodic-jazz perspectives of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and I identified and had great respect [for] Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr."

Looking at her list, Wilson realized she was influenced more by male singers, especially in the jazz vein.

"Even though I love Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, I liked the big-band swagger of the guys and I try to bring that into my music," Wilson said. "But I also try to keep things very broad. That’s why I moved to Nashville. It has a great songwriting pedigree that I can apply to my artistry. I feel like I’m a melting pot of influences." Like Batalla, Wilson involves herself with outreach and charity.

Her song, "A House, A Home" benefits Habitat for Humanity International and the royalties for her song "Spirit" go to Womens Ski Jumping USA.

"It’s important to give back through any level that they feel they can and that’s been ingrained in me," Wilson said. "So, the way I could give back was to try to write songs that could emote an emotion or help people find their story and understand a message of a particular organization or cause. I want to use what it is I do to have an impact."

Right now, she’s focusing on the Deer Valley performance.

"It’s going to be fun," she said.

Esperanza Spalding presents Emily’s D+Evolution with Perla Batalla and Anna Wilson during the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater on Thursday, July 30. The music will begin at 7 p.m. The concert is produced by the Park City Institute. Tickets range from $40 to $75 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.bigstarsbrightnightsconcerts.org .