"I hope that you can enjoy this music because it can be heavy," drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington told the NPR crowd gathered for this Tiny Desk. "We've tried to figure out a way to make it feel good and still give these messages."
In the jazz world, Carrington is a celebrity — a 40-year professional musician who's won Grammy awards and performed with a seemingly infinite list of jazz dignitaries such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Geri Allen. An outspoken activist, teacher and mentor, she is also the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, a multidisciplinary program whose motto is "Jazz Without Patriarchy."
Carrington visited the Desk with her current band, Social Science, a collaboration with pianist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens (both performing here). In the works for some time, their project culminated in 2016 when the cultural divisiveness brought on by the presidential election inspired the trio to take action. "I think there's an awakening happening in society in general," Carrington writes on her website, "I feel a calling in my life to merge my artistry with any form of activism that I'm able to engage in."
This performance features music from the band's new album, Waiting Game. It's story-filled, groove-music performed by a group of accomplished musicians who improvise, rap and sing over complex but highly crafted and accessible instrumental motifs. A perfect synthesis of jazz, indie rock and hip-hop influences, the four songs they played address important, culturally relevant protest narratives: mass incarceration, collective liberation, police brutality and Native American genocide.
The third tune, "Bells (Ring Loudly)," written by Parks and Carrington, features actor Malcolm Jamal Warner who also wrote the spoken word. Carrington had just seen the Philando Castile shooting and her powerful lyrics imagined what she would say to the offending police officer.
"You took my love away from me.
I wanna know how did it feel to watch him tremble and bleed.
Tell me what gives you the right to kill so senselessly?
And when you're alone do you ever think of him or pray for his peace?"
"There is so much we can be angry about but you can't really stay there," Carrington told NPR. "Instead, you can reach somebody on a human level."
Terri Lyne Carrington: drums; Kassa Overall: vocals, percussion; Debo Ray: vocals; Malcolm Jamal Warner: vocals; Kokayi: vocals, percussion, effects; Aaron Parks: piano; Matthew Stevens: guitar; Morgan Guerin: bass, saxophone
Producers: Suraya Mohamed, Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineers: Josh Rogosin, Patrick Boyd; Editor: Maia Stern; Videographers: CJ Riculan, Jack Corbett, Maia Stern, Melany Rochester; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Laura Beltran Villamizar/NPR