Photo by Jacobs Carrington

Credited to Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science, Waiting Game is a broad palette marked by the drummer/leader’s always remarkable, graceful, and dancing deep-pocket grooves over which are layered the talents of pianist/keyboardist Aaron Parks, guitarist Matthew Stevens, multi-instrumentalist Morgan Guerin, vocalist Debo Ray, and MC/DJ Kassa Overall. It’s a significant album, divided into two discs: the first, a thoughtful, powerful, but relaxed and groove-heavy take on myriad social injustices; the second, an elastic four-part improvisation. Disc one addresses society’s ills in word; disc two ruminates on injustice instrumentally, from a nearly avant-garde angle.

MD: Why approach social justice issues in your music now?

Terri: We’re at a critical time in our country’s history, and you have to decide where you stand. You either stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. My priority was always working and making music. I’ve put the two together in my teaching with opening the Institute at Berklee and in my music. My past albums The Mosaic Project and Money Jungle were my way of doing that in a subtle way. But Waiting Game is in your face. If you’re not affected by what’s happening in this country something’s wrong.

MD: How did you write your contributions?

Terri: In the beginning Aaron developed some ideas; I created grooves and ideas. I worked on melodies and lyrics based on Aaron’s ideas. Everyone brought songs. I brought “No Justice (for Political Prisoners).” Meshell Ndegeocello contributed the spoken-word part. I brought “Pray the Gay Away,” and Raydar Ellis and Kassa Overall added parts. “Bells (Ring Loudly)” was Aaron’s piece and I wrote lyrics, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner added spoken word. “Waiting Game” is by a former student of mine who played the piece on the piano. I wrote a lyric to it. On “If Not Now,” Matt Stevens wrote the guitar part. It was a collaboration. I lived with the music more than everyone else and produced the tracks and had the responsibility of making the project happen.

MD: How did you track drums?

Terri: I like to replay the drum parts if I need to. Some things I couldn’t replay because it was recorded with the band and it didn’t feel right to replay. I’ll often retrack drums, though, because when you make a record, often you haven’t played the music before. After living with the music for a couple of months, I know it much better. So I’ll replay and rerecord the drum parts. But some of the songs on Waiting Game didn’t work like that; “Over and Sons” and “Trapped in the American Dream,” those songs are my original drum tracks.

MD: Are we hearing the same drumset on both discs?

Terri: I had two different drumsets in two different parts of the studio, so that at any moment I could go between them. One was a jazz kit with an 18″ bass drum, for the improvisations disc, and I used a larger kit with a 22″ bass drum for the other disc.

MD: Did you treat the drum sound?

Terri: I always play around with the drum sound. That’s the beauty of producing. I edit in Pro Tools, putting effects on drums and sampling. I may sample one of the toms, and then trigger that tom every time it’s hit. It’s a consistent sound, but the velocity changes with the hit. “Bells” is the most treated song on the album. There’s a ride cymbal pattern throughout the song that’s a looped sample. I played the kick and the snare but removed the hi-hat. I want separation, but sometimes when you play certain groove ideas, there’s too much bleed from the hi-hat and snare microphones, so I turn off the hi-hat microphone. And I still have too much hi-hat. So I replayed the groove with a kick and snare only, without the hi-hat, and then I added the hi-hat later. I also programmed ear-candy types of things.

MD: How did you program ideas?

Terri: I work out of GarageBand, which is crazy. I transfer the track to Pro Tools and work with an engineer to edit what I programmed in GarageBand. Inside of GarageBand I have samples from previous sessions I can use. I can grab drum or cymbal or drum machine sounds from that library.

MD: Is there any drum treatment in “Pray the Gay Away”?

Terri: There’s very little drumset in that tune. In the studio I played a lot of percussion, knowing that I wouldn’t use most of it. I pulled parts I liked and made grooves. I was going for a Brazilian maracatu groove there, but with my own take on it. Then a former student of mine who is Brazilian, Negah Santos, played live percussion on top of what I played. I made grooves out of my tracks, and then she added live percussion.

MD: The record is a meditation in a way. You can ride along with the grooves.

Terri: “Bells” was the first track that I wrote; it’s one of the album’s defining tracks. It shaped the musical approach, the sound of the band. “Bells” was written as a spoken-word piece for Philando Castile.

MD: What’s your goal for the Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee?

Terri: It’s the Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice, so I won’t populate the classes more than 50-percent male. Women have been marginalized for so long in jazz; this is corrective work. All the classes have men, but often they’re more female-heavy. Gender equity is everybody’s work. It makes sense to have men in a more female-prominent situation, class, or band so that dominance from all these years of patriarchy can be challenged. If you’re in a band playing and struggling with something and you look around and it’s all women playing, you’ll look at things differently. We all have a collective consciousness, and as music evolves and grows, we grow with it.


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