Love and Soul is a natural, if not as satisfying, sequel to The Mosaic Project, the 2011 release that won drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington a Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy the following year. That maiden entry found Carrington steering an all-star, all-female cast (Esperanza Spalding, Cassandra Wilson, Geri Allen, Dianne Reeves and many more) through 14 tracks that hewed largely to contemporary and traditional jazz. Love and Soul, as its title suggests, moves significantly and determinedly into R&B rhythms and vocal styles, although not to the extent that jazz devotees will feel wholly alienated.
Again, Carrington, who produced and arranged the album, has assembled a formidable group of women contributors. The twist this time is that several tracks pay tribute to male artists who’ve inspired Carrington, and a few feature spoken-word from actor Billy Dee Williams. Frank Sinatra, George Duke, Nickolas Ashford, Bill Withers and Luther Vandross are among those Carrington honors here, with an A-list of frontwomen including Chaka Khan, Nancy Wilson, Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway giving voice to those tunes and several penned by Carrington herself.
Like many of the tracks here, Natalie Cole’s reading of Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” which leads things off, is built atop a fierce dance rhythm, and Carrington populates the track with dexterous instrumentalists-alto saxophonist Tia Fuller and keyboardist Amy Bellamy turn in particularly robust performances. At the other end of the spectrum, the ambrosial Withers ballad “You Just Can’t Smile It Away,” with Regina Carter on violin, Linda Taylor playing guitar and Linda Oh on bass, features a soaring, affecting vocal lead from Paula Cole.
Several tracks, including those sung by Lizz Wright, Wilson and Carrington herself (her own “Can’t Resist”) straddle stylistic lines easily: Jazz changes meet soul-pop dance beats and vocal performances. But there’s no denying that this second entry in the Mosaic Project franchise offers an acutely different vibe than its predecessor.