Review by Robbie Fearon
Birmingham Town Hall
When Terri Lyne Carrington put the original Mosaic Project (Concord Jazz) together in 2011, it featured a rotating cast of all-star female jazz musicians. The project’s second album from 2015 was in a similar vein, with Carrington’s powerful drumming and adventurous arrangements creating an electric, fusion-inspired backdrop for her collaborators to work around a variety of material from ‘Come Sunday’ (Ellington) to ‘You Just Can’t Smile It Away’ (Withers), with a few Carrington originals in between. However the likes of vocalists Chaka Khan and Nancy Wilson, and bassist Linda Oh have busy gigging schedules and as such this gig featured China Moses on vocals, Helen Sung on keys, Tineke Postma on sax and Josh Hari on bass.
After an excellent support slot by Romarna Campbell’s B L A N (C) A N V A S, Terri Lyne’s band started off with the explosive Mosaic Triad, an original from the Mosaic album. Whilst the band’s playing was full of technical fireworks, I felt the tunes and improvisations lacked direction, and despite the high level of musical energy onstage I found myself losing interest rapidly. In defence of Terri Lyne Carrington’s band, the sound in Town Hall was hard to listen to. The drum sound was too loud and very washy, making it very hard to pick out the detail in the music, particularly Helen Sung’s spacy Fender Rhodes flourishes. I also find it disconcerting to be watching a pianist solo on the right hand side of the stage but hear it come through a tinny sounding PA on the left hand side.
The moment my ears perked up was when vocalist China Moses came onstage. Aside from having a flamboyant stage presence, her funky original Disconnected gave the band the opportunity to leave a bit of breathing space and relax into a groove. Al Green’s If I Gave You My Love was played in a sparse and unadorned style, allowing Moses to showcase her vocal range and soulful delivery. The jazz standard Lover Man was played in a rocky groove, and the band finished with Michelle (Lennon-McCartney). I enjoy other artist’s reinventions of Beatles songs, for example Bill Frisell’s NPR Tiny Music desk concert of John Lennon’s music. However I think there are integral parts of Michelle besides the melody, which Carrington discarded in favour of a disjointed rock groove followed by an extended drum solo. I wondered why Carrington chose this particular song, as I found her version lacking in depth.
Overall the concert didn’t quite add up to a satisfying whole. The complex and at times overbearing nature of the band’s instrumental tunes sat uncomfortably next to the simplistic communication and poppy presentation of the vocal numbers, and I found myself wanting the band to find a happy middle ground. A positive mention must go to Romarna Campbell and her band – their lighter approach was much better served by the sound in the room, and the programme of original music felt coherent and meaningful. Bassist Wayne Matthews was the show stealer for me!