Jazz Is a Spirit
ACT Music + Vision
The theme and underlying message embodied in drummer Terri Lyne Carrington's new release is as important as the music, if not more so. Carrington, a first-rate percussionist who's at home whether backing Lenny Kravitz or spearheading a hard-bop date, knows that nothing's done more to kill jazz's viability among younger people than stuffiness, so she tries to keep things loose without sacrificing improvisational quality. On the title track and "Jazz Is," her group includes bassist and spoken-word artist Malcolm-Jamal Warner, whose presence offers a reference point for those who watched him age on the landmark '80s sitcom The Cosby Show. While Warner won't remind anyone of Bob Dorough, he's competent enough in this setting as kind of a musical cheerleader, elevated on "Jazz Is a Spirit" by Wallace Roney's sparkling trumpet assistance.
However for straight jazz purposes, the disc's best songs are the ones featuring robust tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas, someone who should be far better known. His solos and overall contributions to "Little Jump," "Journey East From West," "Giggles" and "Lost Star" provide consistent energy, soulfulness, frequent flamboyance and a strong presence. Bassist Bob Hurst, Roney, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and, on three pieces, the great Herbie Hancock, join forces with Carrington to make solid music, though none of these arrangements are exactly ground-breaking.
Carrington's employing almost the identical production and writing technique to this album that's commonplace on urban-contemporary records. She mixes and matches personnel to selections, making this a less unified date than usual for a jazz record without turning it into a laid-back smooth session. The insertion of "Papa" Jo Jones' voice on "Mr. Jo Jones," which offers the drum legend's personal encouragement to Carrington from 1984, was a great touch, something that gives the date an instructional/historic quality without sermonizing. Carrington continues to eschew adapting the "star drummer" posture, stepping out front only briefly on "Journey Agent." Fully aware of her abilities, she's more concerned with moving the music ahead and expanding her audience and focus than in reasserting her credentials via a string of frenetic solos.
What Carrington's done with Jazz Is a Spirit is to subtly offer other jazz producers, players and labels a blueprint for making modern records that neither compromises the music's integrity nor needlessly limits its appeal.