Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews

By Nate Chinen and Jon Caramanica  /  NY Times News Service

The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul, by Terri Lyne Carrington.

The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ajari/Concord

A few years ago, the drummer, bandleader, composer and producer Terri Lyne Carrington won her first Grammy, for best jazz vocal album. The album was The Mosaic Project (Concord Jazz), which highlighted a regal procession of guest talent — heavy-gauge jazz singers like Carmen Lundy, Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves — along with an estimable all-female band.

Conditions have changed a bit for Carrington since then: She now stands dead-center on the Grammy radar, having also won the award for best jazz instrumental album last year. (She was the first woman ever to win in that category, a fact worth chewing on for a moment.) So Carrington’s new album, The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul, comes preloaded with a proven format and a set of expectations.

The subtitle can be taken more or less at face value: To the extent that The Mosaic Project was a jazz-vocal album, its sequel delves into romantic, quiet-storm R&B. Here, then, is Oleta Adams, purring her way through the Luther Vandross hit For You to Love. Here, too, is Chaka Khan, drawing out her smoky phrases in a slow-funk take on Frank Sinatra’s I’m a Fool to Want You. And Natalie Cole, striking a pop-gospel tone on a buoyant drum-and-bass revision of Duke Ellington’s spiritual Come Sunday.

Carrington is a seasoned adept in the studio, and her production sounds lush and crisp. Where she pushes herself is in the songwriting: Half of the tracks bear her credit, either alone or with partners like the soignee jazz singer Nancy Wilson, who contributed to Imagine This, a persuasive argument for rekindling distant youthful passions. (“And if we dare go back again,” Wilson proposes, in a sensuous half-whisper, “our finest years are still ahead.”)

Most of Carrington’s other tunes are well-made vehicles for their assigned singers: Lalah Hathaway, Ledisi, Jaguar Wright and Chante Moore. A samba-inflected track called Can’t Resist finds Carrington doing the singing herself, more than passably; it also has a smart wah-wah flute solo by Elena Pinderhughes.

It’s no longer necessary (if it ever was) for Carrington to explain her reasons for stocking these albums with female musicians. But it’s hard to understand fully her motive for bringing in the actor Billy Dee Williams as a kind of masculine counterweight, a smoldering yang to the music’s yin.

“Women have always been very much a part of my life,” he intones at the top of one track, “and I don’t mean just from a sexual point of view, but in a very beautiful, wonderful way, actually.” You don’t say.

— Nate Chinen, NY Times News Service

Midnight, Grace Potter, Hollywood

When a singer from an established band goes solo, potential problems abound. After years hewing to one set of rules and restrictions, there are so many paths not taken, so many styles up for the grabbing — the idea is that, now, anything can happen. Of course, most singers solve that problem by ignoring it — going solo generally isn’t a matter of artistic freedom but one of pragmatism, be it of the interpersonal or financial sort. For them, freedom is just a new kind of shackle.

Not so for Grace Potter, for more than a decade the frontwoman of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a slick and ambitious Vermont roots-minded soul-rock band. In its early years especially, the band was boisterous but unchallenging, largely there to provide arrangements over which Potter’s howl could soar free.

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