Terri Lyne Carrington Releases The Mosaic Project on Concord Records

By , Columnist
On July 19th, Concord Records released The Mosaic Project, the fifth leader date by Grammy-nominated drummer, composer and producer Terri Lyne Carrington. It’s the fourth session on which Carrington coalesces -- as she states on a promotional video on her website -- “a lot of different textures and colors and pieces to make a whole picture.”

The date’s 14 selections—Carrington arrangements of songs by Irving Berlin, Al Green, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Nona Hendryx, and the Beatles, and originals that refract the Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and M-Base schools of hardcore jazz and fusion—convey Carrington's  “jazz means no category” aesthetic.

To perform them, she recruits an all-star, all-female cast, including eight singers with whom she’s either worked or has produced (2011 recent “Best New Artist Grammy-winner Esperanza Spalding, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hendryx, Carmen Lundy, Gretchen Parlato, and Patricia Romania) with a first-call ensemble including, in various configurations, Spalding on bass, Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, and Helen Sung on piano and keyboards, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Tineke Postma on alto saxophone, Anat Cohen on clarinets, and Sheila E. on percussion. From the drumkit, Carrington propels the intense, creative solos with relaxed, kinetic flow, weaving an intricate metric web that leans in whatever direction the music suggests.

“Terri doesn’t play drums like a groove machine that I need to lock into with a bass part,” Spalding told me last winter. “To me, she plays drums sort of like a piano. Each register and drum of the kit is like its own instrument that you could say she’s orchestrating, as though each drum has a voice. Playing bass, I have to be solid keeping the time in a specific place, but stay on my toes and be ready to dance with this orchestrated, multi-faceted momentum she’s creating. She’s so diverse—in her playing, you hear all the styles of music she’s mastered.”

A child prodigy, steadily employed with a string of A-list leaders since she was 18, Carrington is long accustomed to being the only woman on the bandstand. She produced her first recording at 22, and became house drummer on The Arsenio Hall Show at 26. Her c.v. includes long-term engagements with such superstar improvisers as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Danilo Perez, But while on past leader endeavors she’s recruited almost exclusively male associates to convey her vision, Carrington uses Mosaic Project to make a firm statement on what it means to be a female jazz musician in the 21st century.

“People always tried to put me in situations with women, but it never felt comfortable or natural,” Carrington told me recently. Influenced by recent engagements with Spalding (she performs on her Grammy-winning 2010 release Chamber Music Society), and with Allen (they’ve shared numerous bandstands since the ‘80s, most recently in Postma’s quartet), her feelings shifted. “Now there are more and more woman instrumentalists coming up who I feel musically connected with so that I’d take a gig with them or call them for a gig, and not think twice about it, because I like the way they play.”

Bearing out this remark, Carrington has most recently served as drummer-music director on a European tour by “Sing The Truth,” a three-singer collective on which divas Reeves, Angelique Kidjo, and Lizz Wright sing repertoire by such female singer/songwriters as Miriam Makeba, Mahalia Jackson, Abbey Lincoln, Ani DiFranco, Carole King, and Tina Turner.

One stop was London’s Barbican Theater, which Guardian critic John Fordham described “a spectacular show that clearly exhausted, surprised and thrilled its participants as well as its audience,” and made special mention of “the unflagging engine” of Carrington's “funky drumming.”

“I’ve always put my heart into whatever I do,” Carrington told me. “From TV, I developed respect for all the genres, because I had to sound as close to people who specialize without imitating them. For me it’s about making music and being creative."

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