Terri Lyne Carrington Runs On Determination

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Terri Lyne Carrington, seen here in New York at Power Station at BerkleeNYC, is the first female instrumentalist to top the Jazz Artist category in the DownBeat Critics Poll.

(Photo: Jimmy & Dena Jatz)

“Without that kind of encouragement and acknowledgment, it’s difficult and sometimes just not fun to keep going down a harder path than your counterparts,” she said. “I think that’s been a problem for a lot of artists, of musicians—especially women.”

Carrington has become a singular figure among jazz musicians in the movement for gender parity, a status boosted by her Concord albums The Mosaic Project (2011) and The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul (2015). Both feature a multitude of female singers, and the 2011 release earned Carrington the first of her three Grammy awards. But the drummer does not see the gender fight as an isolated one.

“It’s like any other ongoing justice struggle,” she said.

Her 2013 release, Money Jungle: Provocative In Blue (Concord), which won the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album (she was the first woman to win in that category), emerged as a critique of capitalism within a tribute to Duke Ellington. It was salted with samples of skeptical voices, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Barack Obama.

That technique finds full expression on Waiting Game, a two-disc masterwork produced by Carrington and released in November. On the first disc, the band presents 11 finely wrought songs, featuring the extended use of voices infused with political content. The second disc offers a 42-minute free-form improvisation. Taken as a whole, the work defines musical democracy.

“Trapped In The American Dream,” which opens Disc 1, plays as a mildly hallucinatory trip inside the prison-industrial complex. Like the original version—Parks, who wrote the music, introduced the piece as an instrumental with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s band—the new one conjures a hypnotic spell driven by a repetitive piano figure laid over an obliquely rendered rhythm in 5/4.

It was one of the first tunes Parks brought to the attention of Carrington. “I thought it might fit the vibe of what we were trying to make,” he recalled. “Terri said, ‘Let’s try that.’ From there we started the collaborative process of finding something new inside of it.”

Carrington avoided listening to the original version: “I didn’t want to know what it sounded like, and I found my own production style with it.” After several takes and considerable editing, the piece took shape. “Once it got to a place that felt right sonically, I asked Aaron if it was OK to add Kassa.”

Overall—who invited activist Angela Davis to contribute to his recent leader album, I Think I’m Good (Brownswood)—now shares co-writing credit with Parks for “Trapped In The American Dream.”

Throughout Waiting Game, Overall’s judiciously deployed distortions, as well as his rap lyrics, are critical to the album’s cohesion. Getting “inside the music,” he said, meant finding the right cadence for his words over the odd meter of “Trapped In The American Dream.” Drawing on his percussion experience—he spent six years as drummer for the late pianist Geri Allen—he negotiates even the knottiest passage, superimposing rapid-fire triplets over the groups of 5.

Buoyed by Guerin’s contributions—a stunning effusion on tenor saxophone—Overall’s lyrics create a moment of fury that reflects the music’s escalating outrage: “Pay attention how they in the kitchen/ Superstition for my inner vision/ Intuition, I don’t wanna listen/ But they got me fishin’ for a pot to piss in.”

Providing contrast to Disc 1’s opener is its closer, the title track. “Waiting Game” was adapted from a piano work by Antoni Vaquer—but it eschews drums or any percussion, its tension conveyed by Ray’s anguished interpretation of Carrington’s words.

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