By John Murph | Published December 2019
Terri Lyne Carrington never has shied away from discussions of social justice. And in addition to featuring voices like civil rights activist and author Angela Davis on several projects, Carrington initiated Berklee College of Music’s Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice in 2018. But hardly anything she’s done previously can prepare listeners for Waiting Game, a two-disc masterstroke on par with Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 hip-hop classic, To Pimp A Butterfly, or better yet, Carrie Mae Weems’ 2016 multimedia production, Grace Notes: Reflections for Now.
Waiting Game absorbs a lot of the Black Lives Matter movement’s simmering fury—as well as the #MeToo movement—and converts it into artistic fuel, as she also addresses homophobia and the genocide of Native Americans. Similar to Weems, Carrington excels at articulating piled-up, conflicting emotions and the mental fatigue induced by the insistent bombardment of social ills. Her keen focus on song-based compositions during the album’s first half helps shape thematic clarity, as does the scintillating rapport she’s struck with her band, Social Science.
A foreboding heaviness permeates the album’s first disc, as if to convey an unending series of social injustices and the stress of being caught in that cycle. The somber “Trapped In The American Dream” sets the tone as Carrington’s martial beats, pianist Aaron Parks’ repetitive riff, and guitarist Matthew Stevens and vocalist Debo Ray’s howling chorus provide a dirge over which Kassa Overall raps about a canopy of horrors. Inside the interrelated obstacles discussed here is police brutality, particularly against people of color. Carrington, though, puts that into sharper focus during “Bells (Ring Loudly)” on which Ray sings from the perspective of a grieving mother after her child’s been killed by the police. The tempo quickens to a Crescent City bounce on the biting “Pray The Gay Away,” a mocking rebuke of gospel singer Kim Burrell’s 2016 homophobic rant. Underneath the Middle Eastern-flavored melody and Nicholas Payton’s lacerating trumpet solo, one hears the antidote—“pray the hate away.”
Carrington dedicates Waiting Game’s second disc to “Dreams And Desperate Measures,” a wondrous four-part orchestral suite that begins with a gossamer arrangement of haunting woodwinds, melancholy strings, a pensive guitar, piano and bass, all in dialogue. The extended improvisation gradually evolves into an undulating groove, propelled by Esperanza Spalding’s elastic bass ostinato.
After receiving a Doris Duke Artist Award, Carrington concludes another triumphant year by releasing an utterly ambitious project, a recording that could be the best jazz album of the year.
Waiting Game: Disc One: Trapped In The American Dream; Bells (Ring Loudly); Pray The Gay Away; Purple Mountains; Waiting Game (A capella); Anthem; Love; No Justice (For Political Prisoners); Over And Sons; If Not Now; Waiting Game. Disc Two: Dreams And Desperate Measures, Parts 1–4. (67:14/42:19)
Personnel: Terri Lyne Carrington, drums, vocals; Aaron Parks, piano; Matthew Stevens, guitar; Kassa Overall, turntables, vocals; Esperanza Spalding, bass, vocals; Morgan Guerin, saxophone, EWI, bass, drums; Nicholas Payton, trumpet (3); Malcolm-Jamal Warner (1), Meshell Ndegeocello (7), Mark Kibble (5), Debo Ray (1, 2, 7, 11), Rapsody (6), Kokayi (4), Maimouna Youssef (9), vocals; Raydar Ellis (3), turntables.