Throughout her 35-year recording career, virtuoso drummer, composer, and bandleader Terri Lynne Carrington has challenged assumptions. Her 2011 Mosaic Project, performed by an all-female ensemble, critiqued jazz as a male-dominated art form while using misogyny as an underlying component of American culture. 2014's Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Duke Ellington-Charles Mingus-Max Roach sessions for United Artists while taking on income inequality and late-stage capitalism. The Waiting Game is a double album that showcases the musical range of her new band, Social Science, as they engage enormous creativity and political protest. Its members include Aaron Parks (piano), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Morgan Guerin (bass and saxophone), vocalist Dèbo Ray, and DJ Kassa Overall. The first disc's 11 compositions deliver a head-on polemic on racism, homophobia, police brutality, prison conditions, gender discrimination, and more with assistance from several guests singing or speaking. Disc two is a sprawling four-part improvisational jazz suite called "Dreams and Desperate Measures" that adds Esperanza Spalding on upright bass, with strings, and winds orchestrated by Edmar Colon.
Disc one opens with "Trapped in the American Dream," with a manifesto narrated by Overall. A melancholy piano figure is repeated atop Carrington's restrained, martial snare, guest Derrick Hodge's bubbling electric bass, and Stevens' poignant single-string guitar playing. Guerin's saxophone solo moves the track beyond the emergent hip-hop frame and into elegant post-bop. Ray's operatic soprano winds in from the margins, adding drama and tension that is transformed into a meld of hip-hop and rock. Nicholas Payton and MC Raydar Ellis guest on "Pray the Gay Away," illuminated by Colon's arresting post-classical string charts. "No Justice for Political Prisoners" is a jazz ballad sung wordlessly by MeShell Ndegeocello. Its narration is filled in by vocal samples from justice warriors: Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Leonard Peltier, Laura Whitehorn, and Marilyn Buck. The title track, composed just after the 2016 presidential election, evokes a general disappointment ("We’ll suffer through/And rise again...") before becoming pointed and angry: ("…The highest ceiling made of glass/Still unbroken…"). Disc two's "Dreams and Desperate Measures" is a nearly 40-minute improvised jazz suite. The first movement emerges with speculative improv by Spalding and Parks; mournful classical strings are asserted, and funky blues and barely restrained post-bop collide inside the frame. "Part 2" commences with a three-chord piano pattern, some skittering brushed snare, and an elliptical string melody answered contrapuntally by Spalding. It unfolds gently with guitars and piano before the strings move become more insistent in a minor-key, pulsing rhythm. The abstract "Part 3" reveals an advanced improvisational interplay at the heart of this ensemble's communication, while the final section initially continues that dialogue but transmutes into funky, spiky, jazz-rock with killer guitar work from Stevens. Waiting Game is a major statement that speaks through the many articulations of jazz in the 21st century while rooting itself in harmonic discovery (particularly on disc two) and prescient cultural critique.