For more than two decades, drummer, producer and vocalist Terri Lyne Carrington has crafted an eclectic brand of jazz that incorporates elements of bebop, soul, funk and much more. Since her debut in 1989, the GRAMMY®-nominated artist has established a reputation for assembling artists of varying styles and perspectives to create music that adheres to the traditions of jazz yet speaks to a much broader and more diverse audience.
Carrington brings this same diverse sensibility to her new recording The Mosaic Project, an album that once again gathers a myriad of voices and crystallizes them into a multi-faceted whole that far outweighs the sum of its parts. The Mosaic Project, Carrington’s fifth album overall and her first on Concord Jazz, is scheduled for release on July 19, 2011.
“Everything about this recording is about making a larger picture out of many various elements,” says Carrington, who produced the 14-song set. “I assembled several friends – most of whom I’ve performed with in the past, and all of whom bring their own individual story – to help me create the big picture. For as talented as each of them are as individuals, when I put them all together, I have a much greater musical story – one that can be told in an interesting and compelling way.”
Included on that list of friends are some of the most prominent female jazz artists of the last few decades: Esperanza Spalding, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sheila E., Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, Geri Allen and several others. Carrington says the emergence of so many great female jazz artists is what finally makes an album like The Mosaic Project possible, more so now than in decades past.
“If I had tried to do something like this in the past – like when I started playing 25 years ago – I might have felt limited by the pool of available musicians,” she says. “But now there are so many talented women whom I’ve been playing with anyway – not just because they’re women but because I love the way they play. So it has become easier to do a special project that celebrates the artistry and the musicality of these women.”
The Mosaic Project opens with “Transformation,” a song written and sung by Nona Hendryx that examines the constant state of flux and change that exists throughout nature and the universe. “This is completely different from Nona’s original version,” says Carrington. “Some people wouldn’t even recognize it, but this song resonates with me - so much so that I started hearing other music around her original melody with moments of Wayne Shorter’s influence peeking through.”
Gretchen Parlato takes the mike on a sensual rendition of Irving Berlin’s “I Got Lost in His Arms,” and follows immediately with setting up the intro on a jazzy and slightly revved up rendition of the McCartney/Lennon’s classic love ballad, “Michelle.” The latter is consistent with Carrington’s recurring tradition of inserting Beatles covers into various albums.
Further in, the shimmering and melodic “Magic and Music” is a track that evolved over time and ultimately came together as a tribute to the late soul legend Teena Marie. “I had written the music a while ago, but the lyrics are new. I wrote the lyrics as a tribute to Teena, who was a friend of mine. Any real fan of hers – anyone who really knows her music – will recognize that this song is all about her.
The politically and emotionally charged “Echo,” a song by Bernice Johnson Reagon of the all-female, African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, is the powerful centerpiece to the album. Carrington’s arrangement for the song, which came together a couple years ago to celebrate the honorary doctorate that Reagon received from Berklee College of Music in 2009, opens with a thought provoking introduction by civil rights activist Angela Davis, then moves into a stirring vocal feature by Dianne Reeves. “Bernice was a major influence on my development as a young woman in the late ‘80s, as was Dianne and Angela, and I wanted to pay tribute to them because their music, activism, friendship and humanity were all strong influences on me personally.”
Other noteworthy tracks in the latter half of the sequence include a seductive cover of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful,” with warm and sensual vocals by Cassandra Wilson; the percussive yet soaring “Unconditional Love,” written by Geri Allen and sung by Esperanza Spalding; and Spalding’s own whimsical and syncopated “Crayola,” which appears just a couple tracks later.
Dee Dee Bridgewater delivers the vocal line on “Soul Talk,” a piece written by Carrington and Hendryx and arranged with an elastic rhythm and a fascinating instrumental mix. The churning “Mosaic Triad,” another Carrington composition, vacillates between bebop and funk, and in the process sets up a rich sonic pallet that forces the listener to engage and take notice. “Show Me a Sign,” written by Carmen Lundy, is the deceptive closer - melodic on one hand, yet infused with a sense of urgency by the persistent rumble of drums that underscores the entire track.
Clearly, Carrington’s picture is never quite what it seems. With so many individual voices and perspectives in the mix, the results are often eye-opening and ear-opening. “There’s one part of me that’s kind of a jazz head who likes complex, thought provoking melodies and harmonies,” she says. “And then there’s another part of me that really likes funk and pop and things that are accessible. This record is another chance for me to assemble all of these great musicians to help me combine those different aspects of myself – those different pieces – and create something special in the process.