Terri Lyne Carrington’s August album The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul is overflowing with vocal talent, with Valerie Simpson, Chaka Khan, Nancy Wilson, Lalah Hathaway, Jaguar Wright, Oleta Adams and others joining drummer-producer Carrington. The material may be familiar, but the album is still loaded with surprises. The Duke Ellington-written “Come Sunday,” for instance, juxtaposes a stately Natalie Cole vocal with a fast, nervous beat and a recklessly careening sax solo, and Paula Cole brings the albums to its emotional peak with a deeply affecting version of the Bill Withers ballad “You Can’t Smile It Away.”
Two of the guests, Simpson and Wright, will join Carrington when she appears at the Nov. 6-8 Exit 0 Jazz Festival in Cape May. Carrington will perform at 9 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Schmidtchen Theater, coheadlining the festival with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (with Wynton Marsalis), who will perform Nov. 7 at 6 and 9 p.m. (NOTE: NJArts.net is giving away pairs of tickets to Carrington’s performance, as well as festival club passes; for information, visit njarts.net/ticket-giveaways.)
The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul — whose style Carrington has described as “jazz meets R&B, from my perspective” — is a sequel to Carrington’s Grammy-winning 2011 release The Mosaic Project, which boasts a different cast of stellar female guest vocalists. Both albums feature all-female bands. (Among the Love and Soul contributors are saxophonist Tia Fuller, violinist Regina Carter, guitarist Linda Taylor, bassists Meshell Ndegeocello and Linda Oh, keyboardists Patrice Rushen and Helen Sung).
I talked to Carrington recently about the album, her festival appearance and more.
Q: Putting together an album like this, do you start with the songs and then think who would be good for them, or do you start with the guest singers and then find the right material?
A: It’s a combination of both, actually. I really try to arrange music that I’ve been living with, so the songs are a big part of it. But on the other hand there are certain artists who I’ve wanted to work with, so I might have them in mind.
It’s a little different for each song. For instance, I started working for an arrangement for “I’m a Fool to Want You” and I was just hearing Chaka Khan as I kept arranging it. I kept thinking she’d be the perfect voice for this. And she ended up doing it. Whereas, “Somebody Told a Lie,” I arranged for Valerie Simpson, because I had told her I wanted to arrange a song of hers, for her. So it’s a little different for each song.
Q: Was Valerie Simpson in particular a big influence on you, in your younger days, when you were just starting to play and write songs and so on?
A: Sure. She was somebody who I listened to as a kid, on a Quincy Jones record. She did a great rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (on Jones’ 1970 Gula Matari album). So for me to actually work with her, after listening to that song so many times as a child … it was great. It was wonderful for me.
Q: Of course, a lot of people knew her first as a recording artist, but then they go back and learn about all the things she wrote and produced, and what a big part of the Motown story she was.
A: Yeah, she was definitely an inspiration. There weren’t many women, first of all, who produced at that level. There’s still not so many. She was part of a team, but she was a piano player, so she was really writing the music, and producing.
Q: At the Exit 0 Jazz Festival, you’ll be appearing with her and Jaguar Wright. Have you given some thought yet on how that will work? Will they be doing a lot of material, or just one or two songs each?
A: At the Mosaic shows in general, I play a few instrumental songs, and I have the vocalist featured on, generally, three songs each. Maybe four, depending on how the show is. So it’s about a third instrumental, and a third with one vocalist, and a third with the other vocalist. And I always do some music from the CD and then — because each vocalist has only sung one song on the CD — I feature them on something else that’s not on the CD.
Q: Working with an all-female band, as you did on the album, does that really change the flavor of it? Does an all-female band have a different flavor for you, than a band that’s all-male, or mixed?
A: It doesn’t change the flavor so much of the music, no. The musicians are all strong musicians, so that’s the most important thing. That’s my only criteria with musicians. Where does it change? I don’t know. Maybe socializing is different. But musically, it doesn’t really affect it.
Q: So have you thought about what the third one in the Mosaic series will be?
A: Oh, that’s nice! You’re assuming that there will be a third one! (laughs)
Q: Well, if there is a third, what would it be?
A: I haven’t really thought about it too much. This record took a lot out of me, so I was really planning on leaving the Mosaic series as it is, now, to leave on the high of these two records. But if I were to do a third one — I’m not saying that I will — but if I do, I could use all male vocalists and all female musicians. I think that would be a nice thing to do. I could also do an international version, but that, I think, would be something that would do better in Europe.
Q: You say it took a lot out of you. What exactly do you mean by that?
A: It took over a year to make. There was a lot of producing: Sometimes I would have to go back and rearrange the songs after I recorded them. And also, getting the jazz musicians to play R&B, more of the way that I’m hearing it, took more effort, and the singers had to fly to Los Angeles a few times. There was never enough time to get the tracks I needed, so there was a lot of time editing between different takes. It took a lot.
For a complete listings of Exit 0 events, visit ExitZeroJazzFestival.com.
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