It’s no secret that I’d go just about anywhere just to hear Valerie Simpson clear her throat—even if I had to walk. Luckily B.B. King’s is within walking distance, and Val was doing three songs as part of Terri Lyne Carrington’s The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul jazz-meets-R&B show, featuring Jaguar Wright and Charenee Wade in addition to Val.
And I would have written something anyway or at the very least tweeted it up bigtime—which I did—but when I popped into the dressing room before the show to surprise her, she said, “Make sure you write something good—even if you don’t like it!” Like it somehow could have been bad, it being a program put together by Carrington (who was busy working on her laptop and not at all annoyed by my dressing room disruption) in support of her new album, a second Mosaic Project, following the first, 2011’s The Mosaic Project, which won a Grammy for best jazz vocal album.
Carrington, of course, is the jazz drummer-composer-singer extraordinaire. The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul album, she explained at the start of the B.B. show, “upped the ante” from its predecessor in employing 40 women, almost doubling the 21 on the first one. For the gig her band was made up of female players (besides herself and her guest vocalists) on alto sax, trumpet, percussion and keyboards; the guitarist, bassist, and second keyboardist (the prolific keyboardist-composer Raymond Angry) were male.
“Some of the musicians I’ve never met,” she said matter-of-factly, “so we’re really winging it.” Wish I could work so effortlessly with family members: Every number was a highlight in terms of Carrington’s confident jazz band arrangements and the individual virtuosity of the musicians. As for the singers, I’ll single out Wade for her rendition of Gil Scott Heron’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” from her new Offering album tribute to Heron and Brian Jackson (I always respected the lyric “Home is where the needle marks/Try to heal my broken heart/Home is where the hatred is/And it might not be such a bad idea if I never, if I never went home again.”
Coming out for her star turn Wright, an okayplayer artist, turned back to Carrington and then back to the audience. “There’s no greater peace and joy than to be about to sing and I look at this woman, because I know I never have to look in back of me. I can look forward at you.”
Yes, Carrington is that much in control—and dependable.
But I was there to see Val, of course, and even following Carrington’s awesome instrumental portion and the two preceding female vocal stars, Val could not disappoint.
She prefaced the Ashford & Simpson classic “Somebody Told a Lie,” which she sings on Love and Soul, by noting how Carrington “takes a song you’ve written and hands it back to you—and you get to hear it all over again.” Sure enough, Carrington essentially deconstructed the song and reassembled it—with Val’s full support and appreciation. Val then pulled out the stops on “God Bless the Child,” then took over a piano, and this being B.B. King’s, performed the bluesy Ashford & Simpson (with Joshie Jo Armstead) classic composition, “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”
Carrington encored with a Charlie Parker bebop, and for the record, there was an inordinate amount of hugging in the dressing room after the show. No doctor needed.