NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne Carrington Shines Light On Female Composers Via ‘New Standards, Vol. 1’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

photo by Michael Goldman

We’re not yet sure how many albums will result from Terri Lyne Carrington’s new endeavor, as she developed a New Standards Lead Sheet Songbook that features 101 songs by female composers that will be published September 15 by Hal Leonard. Commensurate with this timing, we have this recording, Vol. 1, from her elite band and multiple guests as well as a multi-media exhibit at Detroit’s Carr Center planned for November. New Standards is the first initiative for Berklee’s Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice which Carrington formed in 2018. When asked to find women composers in the infamous Real Book of jazz charts, to Carrington’s dismay, she found virtually none. So, she set on this corrective course with a goal to record all 101 songs.  Here is the first installment.

The core band for this session represents gender diversity as it has Carrington on drums with pianist Kris Davis, bassist Linda May Han Oh, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and longtime Carrington collaborator, guitarist Matthew Stevens. Like the Carrington project just issued with Wayne Shorter, Leo Genovese, and Esperanza Spalding live at the Detroit Jazz Fest in 2017 (covered here), this also appears on Candid Records. New Standards, Vol. 1 also features a host of guests, both female and male, which we will mention as we proceed. 

The album kicks off with “Wind Flower,” by Sara Cassey, a pianist but not a performing pianist from Detroit who came to New York in the mid-fifties and had some of her through-composed works covered by artists from both cities.  The piece begins with a series of chords from Davis and Stevens before Payton delivers a charming melody. There are two guitar solos, from Stevens and guest Julian Lage. The flowing flute solo is from guest Elena Pinderhughes. When Payton re-enters he reaches his signature stratospheric heights. “Circling,” from Mack Avenue Music Group head and Detroit philanthropist Gretchen Parlato, features her rising vocalist Michael Mayo, as we continue to hear from the twin guitars of Stevens and Lage along with guest percussionist Negah Santos in this wistful mid-tempo ballad. Pinderhughes flute and electronics from Val Jeanty underlie the spoken words of Shadrack Oppong in the ethereal, bubbling percussion infused “Uplifted Heart,” composed by Shamie Royston, a pianist from Denver, long associated with the late Ron Miles. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane blows two brief passage on tenor in one of his four appearances, engaging in a feisty dialogue with Payton in the latter half. 

Diane Reeves displays her affinity for Brazilian music, singing Elaine Elias’ “Moments” to the sterling accompaniment of the core quintet augmented with Coltrane as Stevens’ guitar work and Carrington’s subtle kit work especially shine. “Continental Cliff” is from saxophonist and fellow Berklee educator Patricia Perez. It’s the first of three that has the core quintet augmented by a wind ensemble (Melena Casado Fauquet– flugelhorn, Anabel Gil Diaz -flute, and Veronica Leahey – bass clarinet). Kris Davis sparkles on her solo and the ensemble work of the unit with Payton carries the Latin-inspired tune. Somi and Melanie Charles deliver heartfelt performances as a duet on Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away.”. Over a sultry, Latin-tinged groove, Charles states Lincoln’s message of positivity and gratitude in hard times: “throw it away, throw it away / give your love / live your life / each and every day.”   The other released single is “Respected Destroyer” from harpist Brandee Younger, who does not play on the tune. Instead, we have gorgeous harmonics as Pinderhughes, Payton, and Coltrane ride smoothly over the cushioning rhythm bed of Carrington, Stevens, Davis, and Han Oh.  Segueing seamlessly into Carla Bley’s “Two Hearts (Lawns)” we find smooth-toned vocalist Samara Joy, backed by the wind ensemble and especially bass clarinetist Leahey who teams with Coltrane on the solos as Joy’s voice floats above the lush bed. 

“Unchanged” from avant-gardist Marta Sanchez offers funk and percolating percussion led by Payton on top as the core quintet moves into exploratory territory with extensive turns from May Oh, and Davis propelled by Carrington’s feathery, precise work on the snares and cymbals.  “Ima” from clarinetist Anat Cohen takes us into a more pensive mode shaped by the guitar duo of Stevens and Lage path as the wind ensemble again joins with textural support of the remarkable harmonics crafted by the guitarists and Davis’s judicious chord choices. The album closes with avant-garde pianist Marilyn Crispell’s obtuse, jagged “Rounds” as trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire joins Payton on the front line. Davis comps frenetically and Carrington is all over her kit as the two horns lead the furious charge to the piece which threatens to go unhinged, if not for Carrington’s steady pulse and the circular patterns that emerge in the latter half.  

Carrington’s New Standards, Vol 1. ushers in a new important chapter in jazz. It has Grammy written all over it.

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