Delphine Diallo


terri lyne carrington’s social science raises its voice

October 2, 2019
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Terri Lyne Carrington’s career carries more weight than most. The Grammy-winning jazz drummer, composer, bandleader, and music educator has long brought a deep and broad-minded consciousness to her work — she’s a sage contemplating how jazz develops forward both inside the tradition and by stretching its confines. Yet just as jazz is not simply a musical discipline, but a social practice, Carrington has been equally adamant about thinking through its integration into the conversation of justice.

Carrington’s newest album, Waiting Game — with a new band called Social Science (pianist/keyboardist Aaron Parks, guitarist Matthew Stevens, multi-instrumentalist Morgan Guerin, vocalist Debo Ray and MC/DJ Kassa Overall) and a plethora of guest appearances by the likes of Rapsody, Esperanza Spalding, Meshell Ndegeocello, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and others —  is her most overt statement on contemporary life in AmeriKKKa. And “Trapped in the American Dream,” a track MC’d by Kassa, is a clear entry-point into where her narrative priorities currently are. To accompany AFROPUNK’s premiere of “Trapped,” we asked Terri Lyne about how Waiting Game came together, and how the music’s social purpose fits into its function as “entertainment.”

A couple of years ago, I saw you speak on a social justice panel during Winter Jazz Fest, so I know that the idea of integrating social issues into music and expressing thoughts on our times through it is not at all a new topic for you. Yet the expansiveness and focus of your new album, Waiting Game, still seems like a giant leap forward into narrative creation for you. Can you talk a little bit about how the project came together? What were the seeds, both in terms of events and actions, and in terms of musical inspiration?

Aaron [Parks], Matt [Stevens] and I would talk about these issues while on tour together, and I really loved how their mindset reverberated with mine. I also, of course, loved their musicianship, and I always wanted to start a band or be in a band. I have not really been in a band over the years — I more work for hire or with artists that have different bands all the time. So we started talking about it in 2016 — not sure how the shape of it would come together. Aaron and I got together at first, and “Bells (Ring Loudly)” was one of the first songs that we collaborated on. He had the music and the title, and the piano riff reminded me of church bells, which made me think of a funeral and the people that are left behind when someone is slain. I could not get the idea out of my head about Philando Castile and his girlfriend and her child that witnessed him being shot in the car by a police officer. These deaths leave more than one victim behind. So I wrote the lyric from the perspective of the spouse, mother or child of someone murdered. I think this set the tone for the rest of the recording. I wrote “Waiting Game” with Antoni Vaquer next, the day after the election. And right after we gathered ourselves from the shock of it all, Aaron and Matt and I were texting each other that it was really time to do this project and we scheduled studio time here in Boston.

As far as musical inspiration, I have always been inspired by music and non-music. I’ve had friendships with people important to the movement — Angela Davis, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and others. I’ve always been concerned, but did not as outwardly reflect it in the music I wrote or presented, though it was there more subtly with Money Jungle and the Mosaic Projects. I’ve loved Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, music from the AACM, Bob Dylan, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Jimi Hendrix and many other conscious artists all my life. Maybe as I have gotten older, I have gotten more concerned about the world I live in and others, than about myself. I started a Jazz and Gender Justice Institute at Berklee recently, as well. I’m not sure exactly, but I know I want to contribute in any way that I can to a better future; and when we get angry or become hurt, there has to be an outlet for these emotions, as well as the hopeful and celebratory emotions. The truth is on the table in this country and anyone that does not see it is asleep. Racial Justice, Gender Justice, Economic Justice, LGBTQ justice, are all connected. This project is saying that we can’t fight for one without fighting for them all.

You have an incredible cast of characters playing alongside you on the album. Can you talk a little bit about how these collaborations came about? Most specifically, “Trapped in the American Dream”?

The collaborations happened naturally. We made the tracks and then I took them to the various artists and asked them if they wanted to participate. One thing I know is that the universe unfolds as it should. I wanted to have some guests but not overwhelm the project with guests so that the band could not present the material strongly without them. I hope that is what is evident. Malcolm is an old friend, Meshell as well. Mark Kibble too. Rapsody and I were guests at the White House for International Jazz Day a few years back and stayed in touch. I’ve known and admired Kokayi for years. I did not know Maimouna at all, but tracked her down through friends. I’ve worked quite a bit lately with Nicholas and he is a deep and radical thinker. I’d wanted to work with Raydar from seeing him around at Berklee. And Esperanza is like a sister to me, a deep and radical thinker as well. It all came together naturally…

“Trapped in the American Dream” was a piece that really felt defining to the group, on all levels and featured elements for everyone to contribute and shine in a way. The track was done before Kassa joined us. But Aaron had already conceived of the for-profit prison system theme, as he was appalled at this form of modern-day slavery. I produced these tracks in a way that I felt featured us musically as much as possible, but that is also making sure the lyrics and the messages are heard — trying to really blend elements of hip-hop and jazz along with indie-rock — and also wanted to be sure that some of the contemporary classical composition influence was heard, as well as the contemporary jazz improvisation and composition was heard and felt as well. Album two also speaks to this.

The Waiting Game by Terry Lyne Carrington + Social Science is out in early November on Motema Music