Carrington was regarded as a prodigy in her hometown of Medford, Massachusetts. While in high school and college, she impressed many veteran jazz players. Moving to New York City in the early '80s, she began to get gigs with local musicians before gaining enough attention to warrant another move, this time to California, where she was seen by millions on a nightly basis as a member of the band on The Arsenio Hall Show and worked with Wayne Shorter's late-'80s band. She released her debut recording as a leader on Verve Forecast in 1989. Into the late '90s, Carrington continued working steadily and was heard best in funk settings, as exemplified by her work with Herbie Hancock.
At the turn of the century, her second solo album began to take shape and was eventually released in 2002 as Jazz Is a Spirit. Two years later, she delivered Structure, featuring the similarly funk- and post-bop-inclined saxophonist Greg Osby. Carrington returned in 2009 with More to Say...Real Life Story; it featured an all-star lineup of guests including George Duke, Everette Harp, Kirk Whalum, and Walter Beasley, and then up-and-coming trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. In 2011, she released The Mosaic Project, which spotlighted several vocalists -- including Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, among others -- and was played by an all-female band. She won a Grammy for the set in 2012 for Best Jazz Vocal album.
After years of being haunted by the 1963 album Money Jungle, from the trio of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach, Carrington decided to record her own radically reworked version with bassist Christian McBride and pianist Gerald Clayton. Her album also featured guest performances from trumpeter Clark Terry, trombonist Robin Eubanks, saxophonists Tia Fuller and Antonio Hart, and vocalist Lizz Wright. In addition to the original set's tracks, Carrington added some of her own tunes to the mix. Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue was released by Concord in February 2013.
She circled back to her ever-evolving Mosaic Project for 2015's Love Soul. The 12-song set showcased an entirely new female band, as well as a large host of vocalists who included Ledisi, Wright, Chaka Khan, Chante Moore, and Valerie Simpson. Carrington spent three years working with a new band to realize her next project for Motema Music. Calling her group Terri Lyne Carrington Social Science, it was comprised of pianist/keyboardist Aaron Parks, guitarist Matthew Stevens, multi-instrumentalist Morgan Guerin, vocalist Debo Ray, and MC/DJ Kassa Overall. In addition, she recruited a guest list that included rappers Rapsody, Kokayi, Raydar Ellis, and Maimouna Youssef (aka Mumu Fresh), along with trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassists Derrick Hodge and Esperanza Spalding, vocalist Mark Kibble (of Take 6) and spoken word from Meshell Ndegeocello and Malcolm-Jamal Warner. The double-set entitled The Waiting Game was issued in early November and confronted a wide spectrum of social justice issues. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
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