By Danny R. Johnson
“You don’t have to be big and strong to play drums. First is your desire, your heart to play. Then you have to be able to put it in your head, and then to your hands through your fingers. Everything is in your wrist and the placement of the beat…you have to be doing it all the time to develop a certain amount of chops or stamina.”
Drummer Dorothy “Dottie” Dodgion (1929-Present), in a November 16, 1980 interview with jazz historian, Linda Dahl.
LOS ANGELES – When Dottie Dodgion, who is one of the most important female drummers of the bop and post-bebop era, made the above comments to jazz historian, Linda Dahl, back in 1980, Terri Lyne Carrington was about 16-years-old already making a name for herself as a promising up-and-coming drummer. Needless did Carrington know at the time that she was destined to become the most influential jazz drummer, composer, record producer and entrepreneur of her generation.
Concord Jazz recording artist, Terri Lyne Carrington’s 14-song set, Mosaic Project CD, is her most ambitious project to date and to the much larger number of interested jazz aficionados, this material will be brand new. Older students of jazz and popular pop R&B, who perhaps have been raised on bop, avant-garde, or other forms of modern music, will in particular be stunned, time after countless time, by the creativity, originality, and resourcefulness of Terri Carrington and her extraordinary side women in the fashioning of their solos arrangements. This CD reflects Carrington’s own shifting points of view and rethinking in her career-long pursuit to push the boundary when interpreting modern jazz and pop music themes. Carrington produced the Mosaic Project to be fun, complex and enlightening.
The incorporation of Carrington’s side women’s melodic or rhythmic creative input, however important in the construction of many of her major themes in the CD, must not be understated, and not enough credit has been paid to Carrington’s own talents for synthesizing the various background-roots contributions of these individualists. Although such soloists as Geri Allen, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Anat Cohen, Angela Davis, Sheila E, Nona Hendryx, Ingrid Jensen, Mimi Jones, Carmen Lundy, Chia-Yin Carol Ma, Hailey Niswanger, Gretchen Parlato, Tineke Postma, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding, Linda Taylor, Shea Rose, Patrice Rushen, Helen Sung, and Cassandra Wilson, inspired Terri Lyne to expand her horizons, by the same token, she also provided the landscape on which the guest artists on the Mosaic Project CD were able to flex their own swinging, bluesy, soulful, and jazzy creative muscles.
As Dottie Dodgion, who by the way is 82-years-old, and is still playing the drums to audiences the world over, mentioned earlier how important it is for the drummer “to develop a certain amount of chops or stamina,” was heard loud and clear by Terri Lyne: Because her persistency, stamina and chops are the DNA of the Mosaic Project.
Take for instance the opening track, Transformation. This piece was originally sung and written by Nona Hendryx, and co-written by Kevan Staples and Carol Pope – Carrington rearranged the tune by adding some rhythmic funk in innovative ways. Nona and Carrington changed each layer of the original song into this independently rhythmically funky, jazzy remix, allowing greater possibilities for inventive Carrington to soar on the drums section, Sheila E on percussion, Geri Allen and Patrice Rushen on piano/keyboard, and the horns section to offer fresh support. Carrington does an admirable job in transitioning to funk groove with the understanding that her rhythm section had to have the freedom to play in perfect harmony, which they delivered in succinct unison.
The Irving Berlin I Got Lost in Your Arms track has the sensational jazz singer, Gretchen Parlato, delivering with her soft and silky voice, which suddenly barely rises, yet remains dynamic and captivating. Gretchen interprets the lyric with deeply felt feelings and emotional impact. Carrington’s drums and percussion arrangements is so translucent and silken, you literally are transported into the arms of the one you love. Excellent. Simply Excellent!
The incomparable Dianne Reeves gives a stellar performance on the Echo track that is stunning! This tune was written by Sweet Honey in the Rock co-founder, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. The song opens with a brief recital by human rights activist, Angela Davis, talking about how America’s overpopulated prison population could be interpreted as modern day slavery. Helen Sung and Patrice Rushen on keyboards connect with one harmony to another, and both play a chromatic scale on the pianos, with accolades going out to Linda Taylor’s deep and rich sustaining bass playing, which really carries the whole tune. Anat Cohen and Ingrid Jensen in the horns sections produces unearthly sounds from a combination of straight pixie mute, plunger mute, and throat growls, can be briefly heard on their own. The keyboardists provide breathing space between the choruses. Sheila E and Carrington held the fort down magnificently on the drums and percussions.
Geri Allen’s Unconditional Love track is an unmistaken smooth and sultry contemporary jazz selection with musical harmonies and sounds flying all over the place. You have the gifted bassist, Esperanza Spalding, opening up with a moody double-time walking bass line on a Dorian scale. On drums, Carrington enters with her own ostinato patterns; three quick accents, followed by a bass drum stroke and a mallet stroke on a cymbal. Geri plays the piano melody in bare octaves, while Esperanza’s bass ostinato undercuts the harmonies implied by the melody. Simply beautiful orchestration and arrangements by Carrington, particularly saxophonist Tineke Postma in the rhythm section who delivered powerful and mesmerizing performances throughout this CD.
Whether you know it or not, Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project CD is historic in nature because it is one of the first CD of the 21st Century consisting of 20 exceptionally talented women jazz artists from various backgrounds, playing homage to the sounds of modern and contemporary jazz, R&B, and funk. Carrington has developed over her three decades in the music business, a system of expectation by reshuffling rhythms, inventing percussive patterns that helped move jazz away from typical swing and bop, to new world systems of jazz music as she well articulated in an interview: “…The high art of jazz may not be for everybody, but there are a lot of people in the world who love and appreciate it, so we try to embrace the ever-changing atmosphere and form it is presented in, and understand that it evolves too, as jazz means many things to many people. It’s all about exposure and choices.”
The Mosaic Project has its roots in the jazz tradition, but it is different enough to scandalize many listeners and even many of their fellow musicians. Its rhythms are more jagged and unpredictable; its harmonies more advanced, at times dissonant; its technical demands could be daunting. Despite the skepticism and hostility they may initially inspire, Terri Lyne Carrington, like the non-conformists before her with the likes of Dottie Dodgion, Max Roach, Mary Lou Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Coltrane, Carrington’s Mosaic Project is a continuation of the evolution of jazz; and serves as the indelible marker for how jazz will be played for decades to come.
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Entertainment & Travel News Editor