The term American Songbook—or Great American Songbook—most often connotes standards of the Tin Pan Alley type, old warhorses that have been recorded and performed time and time again. Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project: Love and Soul concert Saturday night at The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, on the other hand, while part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, veered from the traditional, right from the beginning.
Carrington’s take on Ornette Coleman’s “Chronology” served notice from the get-go that this American Songbook was more broad-based, though she did follow it with the true 1930s pop and jazz standard “Body and Soul,” here arranged by her stellar saxophonist Tia Fuller—though this she followed with the lesser-known Jimi Hendrix song “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” for which she also nicely evoked Hendrix’s conversational vocal phrasing, if not dreamy tone. But flutist Elena Ayodele Pinderhughes picked that up, while guitarist Matt Stevens subtly assumed Hendrix’s guitar style.
The first of Carrington’s special guests, both having appeared on her latest album The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul–as did all the female instrumentalists—came next. Saluting Valerie Simpson as “a real life great American songwriter” whom she learns from every time she works with her, Carrington brought Simpson out to sing Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.”
“She makes people do things they don’t even know they can do!” marveled Simpson, who decided on the spot to leave the piano to Amy Bellamy and just sing into a handheld mic, for which she earned a standing ovation after spurring Fuller to new saxophone heights. She then pulled out a song from her own Ashford & Simpson catalog, “Somebody Told a Lie,” which she sang on Love and Soul. But Simpson acknowledged that Carrington had “stamped it [so] hard” with her arrangement that she had to relearn it, which clearly, she had.
Surprise guest Esperanza Spalding sang an airy scat on Geri Allen’s “Unconditional Love,” which appeared on Carrington’s 2011 The Mosaic Project album—as did both Allen and Spalding—and which Carrington assured will be a standard 30 years from now, though it already is in jazz circles. “Some people make you feel more comfortable just by being on stage,” Carrington said of Spalding, though her performance was so outstanding that Oleta Adams, the evening’s second special guest, felt compelled to admit, “Wow! I used to sing that high once!” prior to to singing her song “I’ve Got a Right” at the piano; she then left it for the Luther Vandross hit “For You to Love,” which she sang on Love and Soul and was likewise “smothered” in Carrington’s arrangement, she said.
Adams’ segment ended back at the piano for Frank Sinatra’s torch song “Only the Lonely,” by American Songbook stalwarts Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, then Simpson joined her for Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday”–a tribute to Natalie Cole, who sang it on Love and Soul. Simpson then took over the piano and turned to the Ashford & Simpson songbook’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” though she generously handed the lead to Bellamy, then gave her spot to Adams as she led the SRO room in the A&S standard “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”
Carrington closed with The Beatles “Michelle,” another fab interpretation featuring her drumming working in tandem with bassist Josh Hari. But the topflight band’s percussionist Negah Santos and trumpet player Arnetta Johnson should not go without mention for all the love and soul they put out all set long.