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.
A superbly versatile bass player, Scott Colley’s wealth of experience is drawn from having played with the biggest names in the jazz scene –Michael Brecker and Herbie Hancock to name but two – and he’s successfully building a solid reputation for himself as a leader. The man’s boundless curiosity and technical mastery are present throughout Empire.
The album shows elements of continuity from his previous release, Architect of the Silent Moment, not only in terms of personnel (trumpeter Ralph Alessi and pianist Craig Taborn are again called upon) but also for the style and overall mood. Bill Frisell’s guitar contributions complement Colley’s predilection for melodic soundscapes, which often brim with folk and country references. The move from Antonio Sanchez (on Architect…) to Brian Blade suggests the bass player’s appreciation of drummers with a pristine use of dynamics and unique attention to sound.
Empire follows a somewhat irregular narrative, opening with a voluminous display of touching chords, longing landscapes, unbounded drumming, scattered or more muscular insertions; at the very beginning electric Miles may come to mind. After such an explosive start, from the fifth track onwards the album settles down into a coda of pensive ballads and gentler, progressively more nocturnal tunes, where the alternation of Taborn and Frisell introduces two different moods (although it’s Frisell’s imaginative openness and melodic elegance, both homely and melancholic, which mostly prevails). On the other hand, Alessi provides the thread of continuity throughout, his wonderfully round tone and flawless technique apparent.
Colley’s writing is superb. As in Architect…, he favours composite rhythms and a matching appetite for tonal exploration, striking a beautiful balance. Gut features a beat that constantly moves forward and leaves you wondering if time itself has been warped, a feeling deepened by Alessi’s intense display on the trumpet.
Tagging along on his rhythmical discourse is an exciting, never predictable journey, and definitely never a soulless one. Colley is engaging, propelling the action forward with a relentless sense of swing, and Empire is excellent.
This compilation, produced to accompany Michelle Mercer’s biography of the same title, maps Wayne Shorter’s remarkable career as a composer and interpreter with great precision. It details how profound an evolution jazz has undergone over Shorter’s lifespan, to an extent where it’s impossible to disentangle his progression as a saxophonist from that of the genre itself.
Shorter is said to have played a substantial role in selecting the 22 tracks. To speculate about the extent of his involvement with the anthology is unavoidable: Shorter belongs to an era of great performers who would allow their emotional range to play a structural role in the makeup of their jazz DNA. For them, bravura and virtuosity are nothing without a story to tell. As such, a compilation like this almost immediately translates into biography.
It goes from Shorter’s early solo records, his collaborations with Miles (in so doingrevealing his formidable originality as a composer, spanning from Speak No Evil to Bitches Brew), to the genius of the early Weather Report - where his inimitable sound reaches one of its many creative peaks. And then beyond, with the absorption of a fusion-implemented Brazilian vocabulary (eg: the collaboration with Milton Nascimento in Native Dancer).
From there, the anthology follows Shorter’s ingenuity as an innovator spreading over many a crossover experiment (Steely Dan; Joni Mitchell), including the more divisive ones (the overflowing synthesisers that plagued the Eighties). But even then, Shorter’s class is not to be overlooked. And thus to the present day: the formidable acoustic quartet and the recent collaboration with Herbie Hancock.
The only two remarkable omissions from this double-cd collection are the seminal Juju and Night Dreamer: regrettably no material from either is featured (presumably due to licensing limitations).
Last but not least, the choice of “Footprints” as title track pays homage to Miles the mentor, the man without whom all this wouldn’t have happened as it did. Miles’ last words to Shorter were for his genius ‘to be more exposed’. Hence this compilation, one guesses. Yet again, the Shorter story is thereto amaze us.