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Christian Wissmuller • ArchivesArticlesAugust/September 2021What's on Your Playlist? • September 16, 2021

Photo: Allison V Brown

This summer, at the age of 40, Trineice Robinson released her debut album, All Or Nothing. Listeners discovering Robinson’s wide musical palette and expressive approach may wonder where she’s been. The answer is academia: She teaches jazz, gospel/Christian, R&B, rock, country, and pop, and holds a faculty position at Princeton University as the jazz voice instructor, lecturer, and director of the Jazz Vocal Collective Ensemble. She also serves on the faculty in the academic division of Gospel Music Workshop of America.

Dr. Robinson created Soul Ingredients®, a teaching methodology for developing a singer’s musical style/interpretation in African American folk-based music styles. This methodology shows students how to take their personal experiences, musical influences and models, and execute the different components in a manner that is personal to the singer/performer’s own personal expression. “I teach concepts like ‘sing your soul’ and ‘music your story,’” says Robinson. “Now, it’s my turn to do that.”

Not surprisingly, the vast array of musical influences that Robinson draws on for her music can be found on her playlist.

“In no specific order…”

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Oscar Brown Jr & Maggie Brown – We’re Live 

While one might easily point to Oscar Brown Jr.’s Sin and Soul album as most influential, or Tell it Like it Is, this album is most special to me. We’re Live is an album through which the love of family is celebrated; history and culture is uplifted; and legacy is upheld. The last album Oscar Brown Jr. recorded, and the fact that he was with his family, makes it more special. Joined by his daughters, Maggie and Africa (who joins on a few numbers), along with the memory of his son Oscar Brown III, the show captures the energy of a proud daughter, sharing with the world the musical works of her proud father. As poet, activist, and musician, Oscar Brown Jr. (1926-2005) has a clever way of perpetuating cultural dialogue, political and socially conscious messages in his music. I enjoy exploring both the overt and covert messages maintained in his music.

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Kim Burrell – Live in Concert

I love live albums because they often capture the personality, energy, and musicality of an improvising musician and storyteller. This is especially true in gospel music. As a composer, musician, and pastor, Kim Burrell is known for blending jazz, soul, funk, and pop into gospel music. A highly skilled improviser and performer, Kim Burrell is one of the few gospel singers of her time that used advanced harmonies to construct her melodic lines and melismas. She is a significant influence for many contemporary singers, both in and out of gospel music. This album is an excellent example of the various forms of improvisation (text, melody, form) used in contemporary gospel music. She hasn’t recorded a live album since this 2001 album, but this remains my favorite of all her album. It is in live performances that her musical excellence and ministerial skills really shine.

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Carmen McRae & Betty Carter – The Carmen McRae – Betty Carter Duets (Live At The Great American Music Hall, San Francisco / 1987)

When two great jazz musicians share the stage and have the utmost most respect and joy for each other’s presence and talent, magic happens. It’s not often two artists of the same gender record together – even more rare for them to do a whole album together. The collaboration between Carmen McCrae (1920-1994) and Betty Carter (1929-1998) is both genius and genuine. While their styles are very different, they seamlessly weave their voices in and out of every melody, complementing each other without crowding or drowning out the other. A perfect collaboration, the album is a lively conversation between friends that happens to be set to the music they both enjoy singing, telling stories they love to tell. We are lucky to relive the moment and learn from the greats’ characteristics that exceed pure musicality.

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Take 6 Take 6

This album exposed me to jazz harmony, vocal arranging, vocal blending, and the bible all at the same time. Of all the albums on this list, Take 6 is the only album that has remained on my list since childhood. Growing up in the church, I was consistently exposed to gospel music of all styles. While contemporary gospel groups like the Winans and the Clark Sisters were staples in my household, Take 6’s album was different than anything I had heard before. Besides being an a capella Christian album, the intricate six-part voicing, progressive harmonies, and a seamless vocal blend made its transcription a goal worth striving. While musically complex, the album shared messages of comfort, love, and strength in Christ, while still being fun, theatrical, and engaging. It was one of my family’s favorite road trip albums, and we would sing every word to every song and have a great time while doing so.

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Jimmy Scott – All the Way 

One day while an undergrad, I was going on and on about how much I loved Nancy Wilson to one of my mentors, the late Donald Meade. He responded, “If you really like Nancy Wilson, you should be checking out Little Jimmy Scott!” At the time I had no idea who he was referring to; I had never heard of him. Upon listening to this album, which was the first of a series of albums he recorded after his career was rejuvenated late in life, my mouth dropped in awe. First, I was struck by the texture and range of his voice that had a sound typically associated with a female vocalist. He had a delicate high tenor (maybe even alto) voice. Most strikingly, the very thing I loved about my favorite singers, especially Nancy Wilson, I heard in Jimmy Scott. A master storyteller, he could capture the variety of emotional dimensions in the treatment of words and manner of phrasing. Every word he sang had a purpose. If you’ve never heard of Jimmy Scott, he’s worth Googling.

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John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman – John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman 

Another beautiful collaboration of masters, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, come together for what, at the time, was an unexpected collaboration. John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is the only album John Coltrane recorded with a vocalist – and it was Coltrane that sought to record with Hartman. On this album, I love hearing the sweet, sensual, tender side of Coltrane. His sweeping, lyrical melodies, gentle tone, and passionate phrasing genuinely compliment Johnny Hartman’s lyrical, silky smooth, baritone voice. Every phrase is purposely articulated and romantically executed by Hartman, highlighted by the warmth and fullness of his voice.

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Jazzmeia Horn – Love and Liberation 

Most recently, I’ve been enjoying Jazzmeia Horn’s lasted album, Love and Liberation. Undeniably rooted in Betty Carter, I’ve enjoyed watching Jazzmeia continue to thrive and develop as an artist and composer. Steeped in the jazz tradition, I appreciate her commitment to spreading love and stories of love through her music. Her original compositions, arrangements, and performance are a wonderful depiction of who she is and what she believes. “Free Your Mind,” “What I Say,” and “Legs and Arms” are my personal favorites on the album. As a voice pedagogue, I particularly appreciate the flexibility of vocal qualities and vocal colors used in her musical expression. She can go from soft, smooth sounds to brassy belting textures that capture a range of playfulness, sassiness, bossiness, genuineness, and, importantly, soul.

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Gregory Porter – Liquid Spirt 

Liquid Spirit is my favorite album by Gregory Porter. I love how the fullness and depth of his voice, coupled with the authority and conviction with which he tells stories, celebrates the legacy of great singers from which he stems. His style is a blend of gospel, soul, folk, and jazz. The lyrics to his songs read like poetry, using words that stimulate the imagination and articulate familiar circumstances of relationships. Chip Crawford, Aaron Jones, Emanual Harrold, and Tivon Pennicott create the perfect musical landscape for every song they play on, maintaining thoughtful textures, dynamics, and rhythmic accents that perpetuate the story being told.

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Rachelle Ferrell – First Instrument 

I loved Rachelle Ferrell’s music the moment I heard her. From her R&B album with her infamous duet with Will Downing, to her many jazz albums that followed, I’ve always loved how she explored her six-octave vocal range and the many vocal colors she used to communicate her story. First Instrument was my first exposure to possibilities in interpretation. I was just being introduced to jazz vocalists when this album came out in the U.S. (1995). I vividly remember being both excited and intrigued upon my first listen. I loved the arrangements and the feel of the whole album. I was fascinated with the way she used her voice and the sounds she produced in doing so. At one moment, she would create sweet, soothing vocal qualities, and in another moment, she would be singing notes and textures I was not accustomed to hearing in a vocal album of any genre. What was most compelling to me is that all of this exploration was nestled in relatable groove and style that although at the time it was all new to me, it felt like home.

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Terri Lynne Carrington – The Mosaic Project

A celebration of the women in jazz, I enjoy this album just as much today as I did when it came out 10 years ago. The Mosaic Project is composed primarily by women and performed solely by women. It brings together a glorious assemblage of female musicians that range in experience from legends to and “up and coming” artists, all of whom exude excellence. Terri Lynne’s compositions and arrangements combine jazz, fusion, R&B, spoken word to articulate stories of pride, empowerment, social awakening, and most profoundly, sisterhood. On this album, Terri Lynne Carrington is joined by the legendary Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, Sheila E., Dianne Reeves, Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, Carmen Lundy, Angela Davis, Helen Sung, Mimi Jones, Gretchen Parlato, Anat Cohen, Ingrid Jenson, Linda Taylor, Tineke Potsma, Shea Rose, and Esperanza Spaulding. Yes… this is, indeed, sisterhood at its finest!

Trineice Robinson’s most recent album, All or Nothing (4RM Music Productions), was released on August 6, 2021.

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