If there is such a thing as the short straw for improvising musicians it may well be a booking in the days immediately after the London Jazz Festival. The growth of the event in the past decade surely leaves some punters in post-LJF ‘time out’ mode, sufficiently satisfied to forgo a concert by an artist of Terri Lyne Carrington’s stature. Several rows of empty seats in one half of the club is thus not the most edifying of sights for the drummer-composer-producer who has recently delivered the second instalment of her excellent Mosaic Project, Love & Soul.
However the grade-A mixed gender band, in line with the equality agenda of that latest work, hits the ground running and within moments Carrington’s superlative blend of drive and stealth underlines why she landed gigs with the Waynes and Herbies of this world at a strikingly early stage of her career. If the 1980s, the decade of her emergence, seems an eon away she reminds the audience that one of the significant composers of that time, and another one of her collaborators, pianist Geri Allen, wrote some great ‘new standards’ by way of a reprise of Allen’s gorgeous ‘Unconditional Love’. The sextet enriches the swirling harmony by incisive voicings from the horns, Arnetta Johnson (trumpet) and Lakecia Benjamin (alto sax) and discreet motifs from Ben Eunson’s guitar, while the nucleus of Carrington, double bassist Josh Hari and pianist Helen Sung really nails the rhythmic centre. The latter in particular, last seen at this same venue with the Mingus Big Band, grows impressively throughout the performance and it is fitting that the second set closes with her own piece ‘H-Town’, during which the bluesy sophistry of the arrangement, all sharp chordal stabs and bursts of rolling groove, trills to an irresistible climax. The most significant thing to occur in the interim is the arrival of vocalist Charenee Wade, which effectively leads to something of a concert within the concert. Enjoying a greater spotlight this year by way of the release of her excellent Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson tribute album, The Offering, Wade certainly has something of an artist on the verge of premiership promotion. Her opening salvo, a searing reprise of ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, sends a very perceptible tremor of excitement around the house to make the unoccupied pews irrelevant.
Back in the spring, when in London for his appearance at the nearby Wigmore Hall, bassist Christian McBride described Wade as ‘the second coming of Betty Carter’ and the hype is quickly justified. She has great phrasal ingenuity, an ability to skate right on the edge of a key signature, to push ‘out’ while staying ‘in’, and an emotional engagement with the material that renders every word believable, to the extent that when she delivers the hammer blow of the anti-drug lyric, ‘home is where the needle marks’, there is momentous pathos amid the soulfulness of the music. The other highlight from the songs drawn from Wade’s album is ‘Ain’t No Such Thing As A Superman’, during which the singer’s cheerleading skills and general desire to make audience participation more choice than chore come into their own. Topping all of this, however, is a quite majestic version of ‘Simply Beautiful’, in which the tantalising sensuality of Al Green’s original is retained and enhanced by Wade’s flickering subtleties amid the seamless transitions from ballad to backbeat. Had the gig taken place during the London Jazz Festival, the applause may have been louder.
– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Ben Amure