News Column

For the record: Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project

July 18, 2014

By Paul Weideman, The Santa Fe New Mexican

July 18--The final two New Mexico Jazz Festival concerts at the Lensic Performing Arts Center feature two drummers: Terri Lyne Carrington and her Mosaic Project on July 25 and the Jack DeJohnette Trio on July 26.

Carrington considers DeJohnette (her elder by a couple of decades) to be her "biggest mentor," describing his playing as "just very fluid, like water."

She was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the daughter of saxophonist Sonny Carrington. As such, she grew up with a lot of music going on around her. "Oh yeah. From the womb," she said by phone during a cab ride in Massachusetts. "He played a lot of records all the time. It was like [tenor saxophonists] Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt and Stanley Turrentine, a lot of organ groups led by Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Jimmy Smith, [pianist] Les McCann, that kind of stuff. It gave me a good foundation."

She moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s and was the house drummer for the Arsenio Hall Show. A decade later she was the drummer on Quincy Jones' late-night show Vibe. She has released seven albums under her own name and has performed or recorded with Stan Getz, Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and other jazz stars. In 2003 her alma mater, the Berklee College of Music in Boston, awarded her an honorary doctorate. She taught music for two years at the University of Southern California and has been a professor at Berklee for eight years.

In June Carrington had an opportunity to work a bit "outside of the box," playing more in the avant-garde vein in a "Night of Improvised Round Robin Duets" at New York'sTown Hall, sponsored by the Red Bull Music Academy. Has she ever played such music before? "Sure. I was very tight with Lester Bowie over the years; I got to play a little bit with him. And this round-robin event was very, very cool, playing with Marc Ribot and David Murray. I got a lot of compliments from people, saying, I never heard you play like that. It was all improvised and you didn't know who they were going to put you with."

Asked if she has any other living heroes of the drum, she said, "Roy Haynes is my all-time favorite. I mean, he was the person who influenced Jack. Him and Elvin Jones. Jack is a perfect combination of Elvin and Roy."

Carrington has recently made a name for herself as a producer as well as a drummer. She won the top award in the Rising Star-Producer category in the recent DownBeat Critics Poll, published in the magazine's August issue. She both performed on and produced Dianne Reeves' new album, Beautiful Life. She is currently producing a disc by harmonica player GrÉgoire Maret and early next year will work on a CD by saxophonist Tia Fuller.

Carrington's last release was Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue. It's a trio disc with Gerald Clayton and Christian McBride, as well as many guests, and was recorded as a tribute to the 1963 album of the same name featuring Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach.

The drummer's album before that, The Mosaic Project, is an all-female effort featuring 16 musicians. Two of them, pianist Geri Allen and bassist Esperanza Spalding, joined Carrington in June for a series of gigs at New York'sVillage Vanguard. The Mosaic Project won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Spalding, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Carrington are among those who sang on the CD.

Money Jungle came out 17 months ago. Is Carrington working on another CD? "I am. I'm doing a Mosaic II right now, leaning a little more toward R&B, vocally. It will be Oleta Adams, Valerie Simpson from Ashford & Simpson, Paula Cole, Lizz Wright, Lalah Hathaway, ChantÉ Moore, and a couple of others."

Carrington said the band she presents at the Lensic is "basically a sextet with two vocalists." Hitting the stage with her are vocalists Lizz Wright and Gretchen Parlato, saxophonists Fuller and Grace Kelly, pianist Rachel Z, guitarist Matt Stevens, and bassist Josh Hari. "We'll play mostly songs from The Mosaic Project and also a few songs from Lizz Wright's repertoire and one song from Tia Fuller's last record."

Parlato, who is known for her radically intimate, gauzy vocal style, blasted off in the jazz world after winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition a decade ago. The California native moved to New York City and started collaborating with Kendrick Scott, Terence Blanchard, Lionel Loueke, and others. She has released four albums as leader, most recently 2013's Live in NYC.

She teaches jazz voice at the Manhattan School of Music. "I'm joining forces with Theo Bleckmann, who is also an instructor outside the box of traditional jazz studies," Parlato said in a mid-July interview. "The singers can get their traditional jazz from other teachers there, but we're hoping to open their minds to explore."

The young singer also offers a series of workshops. One is "I'm With the Band," a title that perhaps implies a nonconformist approach: prioritizing attention to other band members over the audience.

"Sometimes we, us singers, are encouraged to have this interaction with the audience, and you're kind of in your own solo world, without connecting as much with the band and being a unit. The audience interaction is important, but I think what should come first is feeling like you're united with and connected with the band. Then you can come out from there.

"In that workshop we try to get singers to realize the depths of what is actually happening onstage with everything technical and emotional and spiritually and how to tap into themselves and connect with the band and make the music come to a higher and a deeper place." Parlato is the daughter of longtime Albuquerque resident David Parlato, who played bass with Frank Zappa, Paul Horn, Don Ellis, and others from the 1960s through the 1990s. A bassist around Northern New Mexico in the 2000s, he gave up active playing a few years ago but still taught at the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque. "He's doing great," his daughter reported. "He's living in Oxnard, California, now and he's playing bass again, doing some touring with the Grandmothers of Invention." The Zappa-alumni group toured Europe this month.

Gretchen Parlato's unconventional side shows up not only in her singing but on her website, which includes video appearances by Helen McKenzie, a colorful-wig-wearing, outlandish alter ego. "It helps me let go," she said, laughing. "It's still a dream to incorporate that in a show." It is unlikely that Helen McKenzie will make an appearance in Santa Fe, but Parlato will bring her new baby boy, her first child, with her to New Mexico.


--Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project

--7:30 Friday, July 25

--Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.

--$20-$50, 505-988-1234,


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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