The Mosaic Project, Terri Lyne Carrington’s fifth album as a leader is, as she puts it, a celebration of “the artistry of many women I had worked with and felt a sisterly bond with, women that were close friends and musical partners”. It is an album of songs arranged or written with its impressive line-up firmly in mind – amongst those contributing are vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Dianne Reeves, and the best new artist at the 2011 Grammy Awards, Esperanza Spalding.
Carrington “never wanted to be viewed as a ‘female’ musician”; she wanted her artistry to speak for itself, so took little notice of the prejudice against women instrumentalists present in the early 80s when she began her jazz career. She would grow into one of the most accomplished drummers around, playing with Herbie Hancock and jamming alongside Dizzy Gillespie, inspired by the formidable mentor of Jack DeJohnette.
For The Mosaic Project, Carrington aims to create “sharp shapes, with blurred edges”. And she certainly succeeds in her reworking of known numbers, which appear beside originals. Linda Taylor’s rock guitar and the intense Parlato on vocals give Irving Berlin’s I Got Lost in His Arms a radical make-over, while The Beatles’ Michelle receives a fine jazz treatment. Angela Davis draws a parallel between slavery and the prison system in her spoken-word intro to Echo, the song’s lead vocals coming from Reeves; Dee Dee Bridgewater shines on a testing rhythmical rollercoaster in the shape of Soul Talk; and the likes of Spalding, Geri Allen, Cassandra Wilson, Ingrid Jensen and Helen Sung – the list is as good as endless – all display impeccable musicianship.
Expectedly, Carrington kills on the kit, as a leader should. She sounds incredibly sharp and leads with astounding technique – and she can get her groove on like few others. Truly, this is a jazz album in the most elementary meaning of the term, borrowing freely from whatever’s around it. Carrington is following in the footsteps of Hancock and Wayne Shorter in crafting a style that is, both rhythmically and emotionally, deeply resonant of jazz’s African roots. This set steers clear of easy compartmentalization with its openness and freedom.
It’s true that some, still, may be wary of an all-female line-up after a steady diet of male combos, but few ears will need adjusting: The Mosaic Project offers, simply, some of the best jazz around.