Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington chooses to follow up her critically acclaimed reworking and updating of the classic ‘Money Jungle’ album with an essentially R & B flavoured (in the modern sense) recording that, while infinitely superior to a good deal of contemporary music that charades as soul, is something of a lost opportunity to stretch out with some of the instrumentalists in the way that say Erykah Badu has accomplished and the musicians here are seriously good, but for most of the time under-employed. Quite possibly, Carrington had in mind the recent Robert Glasper ‘Black Radio’ album projects that fuse R & B with jazz and a whole host of singers spanning several decades are invited guests.
The project has a clear rationale, to use the talents of numerous women musicians and singers to focus on male-female relationships and in this intention alone works quite well. An atmospheric ballad, ‘Somebody told a lie’, features the seldom heard Valerie Simpson on lead vocals and is a lovely update on the original with moody keyboards and the surprise of an Afro-Latin percussive breakdown that seemingly arrives out of nowhere. A pity there were no similar surprises elsewhere. Chaka Khan demonstrates what a fine interpreter she is on what was originally a ballad vehicle for Frank Sinatra on ‘I’m a fool for you’ and the restrained performance is enhanced by a lyrical soprano saxophone solo. Khan should be heard over a full album of jazz grooves at some point.
When a major reworking is attempted, as on Duke Ellington’s ‘Come Sunday’, it sounds plain odd with a dub step drum beat accompanying Nathalie Cole. Had the beat been less frantic and more funk-tinged, then it would have worked better which is a pity since the Headhunters style bass and keyboards are enticing. There is something of a Marvin Gaye mid-1970s production feel to ‘Imagine This’ that showcases veteran Nancy Wilson with a quasi-spoken delivery. Coming back up to date, Lizz Wright is a fine vocalist in the prime of her career and an old Patrice Rushen ballad, ‘When I found you’, serves as the pretext for the singer to deliver a more contemporary urban sound that makes a change, and Carrington takes the beat up a gear towards the end. Gospel hues are evident on the interpretation of Luther Vandross’ ‘I’m a fool to want you’ that remains largely faithful to the original. A tale of two cities, then, with contemporary soul fans delighted to hear such an array of vocal talent in one place whereas jazz fans are more likely to be frustrated at the lack of improvisation and spontaneity.