Michelle and Mark
Sometimes people just click. Throw in some heightened creativity and perfect timing, and you get Michelle Carr and Mark Whitfield’s new album, Mutual Modulations, a new take on jazz and blues, with thoughtful lyrics and a complex yet accessible sound.
The two had known each other for 15 years and were performing together at Manhattan’s famed Blue Note Jazz Club when the vision for a collaborative album struck. They’d recorded before, with Whitfield playing guitar on Carr’s debut album, Change, but they’d never written songs together, and it seemed like the right time.
The two sat down to begin writing in mid-August 2012, not knowing what to expect—within 10 minutes, they had the track, “The Game,” started. Just three months later, they were finished writing the entire album.
“It’s rare for two musicians from two different worlds to come together and have such chemistry,” Whitfield says. He studied jazz at Berklee; she was classically trained at Juilliard. His instrument is the guitar; her’s is her voice. He plays a hundred shows a year with his hard bob quartet, Whifield Extended; her frequent appearances showcase a wide range of vocals complemented by her extensive background in theater. But it was their commonalities more than their differences that shown though during the song-writing process. They’re both educators with a passion for sharing their talents. They’re both humble and open minded. And they both stepped out of their comfort zones to achieve a new sound.
Carr asked Whitfield to set aside his electric guitar and play his nylon-string acoustic. In turn, she abandoned her usual intricate harmonies in favor of a voice laid bare. Both were challenged by the feeling of being exposed, but the risk helped them plumb an extraordinary emotional depth and create soulful, honest songs that are accessible to a wide variety of listeners—a sound the two call “sophisticated blues.”
Combining the richness of the jazz, the melodies of classical music, and the raw emotion of the blues resulted in songs like “The End of My Parade,” in which the desperation of the singer is palpable—and painfully real. This isn’t an album of catchy pop tunes or cotton candy love songs. Each piece was written to capture elements of the human condition as diverse as suffering the depths of depression, musing on the afterlife, and striving to achieve one’s dreams.
Carr and Whitfield are joined on the album by renowned bassist James Genus and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr. Genus has played with an impressive list of artists including Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock, and he’s currently in his twelfth season with the Saturday Night Live band.
Twenty-three-year-old Whitfield, Jr.’s prodigious musical journey started when he was just two years old and has taken him to famous venues and festivals both stateside and abroad.
Perhaps the best part of this initial star-crossed collaboration is that it’s likely to happen again. Both Carr and Whitfield were so pleased with the ease and bounty of the process, that it’s likely they’ll join forces again to “grab the ears and hearts” of their listeners. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves just yet—first let the songs of Mutual Modulations fill your soul.