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Leaderless, A Hybrid Swings Forward

Published: 2012-01-13
Terri Lyne Carrington The drummer Terri Lyne Carrington put out an album last year called “The Mosaic Project," with all female musicians and singers from different aesthetic areas and generations, swing and backbeats, melodic improvising and rapping, the whole thing loosely categorizable as jazz. It involved a revolving cast of more than a dozen musicians; it's probably impossible to take the project on the road.

The all-female band she's convened as a follow-up makes more sense: a trio with the bassist Esperanza Spalding and the pianist Geri Allen, both participants in the larger project. It leans toward standards and judiciously chosen bits of jazz from the 1950s and '60s and sits more in line with the acoustic jazz tradition.

Ms. Carrington is the de facto leader, though the group strives for—or is certainly influenced by—an aesthetic of leaderlessness, and the band is being advertised by the players' three names, with hers at the end. The whole idea seems right for the Village Vanguard, where the trio is playing its first New York concerts this week.

So far so good, but in Wednesday night's early set the major detail still to be worked out was balance and musical space. Ms. Carrington is a learned and busy drummer, reflecting bits and pieces of Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and the general post-70s rhythmic idea of jazz unto funk unto rock. She expands and stuffs rhythms, breaks up time and makes hybrids everywhere, tricking out and disguising swing, bossa nova and shuffles. She can make extroverted jams out of shy, elliptical songs, as she did with Wayne Shorter's “Fall," and she changed her approach inside each piece.

Her great moment in Wednesday's early set came in the standard “If I Were A Bell," with an episodic arrangement: one song became five or six, directed by completely different rhythmic patterns and languages.

Ms. Allen, one of the more important jazz musicians of the last 25 years, held her own and got her own warm sound across—especially in Leonard Bernstein's “Lucky to Be Me," a song Bill Evans used to play in the late '50s, and an alert, close-to-the-vest version of Eric Dolphy's zigzagging “Miss Ann."

Those who were coming to hear Ms. Spalding, winner of last year's Grammy for best new artist, might have left feeling a little thirsty. Not for her notes: she likes playing fast melodic patterns, almost like scat-singing through a bass, and you could make out the shapes flying by. But a lot of her resonance and sound, her connection with her instrument, got obscured by the dense latticework of the drumming.

Geri Allen, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington perform through Sunday night at the Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at 11th Street, West Village; (212) 255-4037, villagevanguard.com.


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