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Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science at Cologne Philharmonic

Phillip Woolever By

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Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science
Cologne Philharmonic
Cologne, Germany
January 26, 2019

When outspoken American artists perform before European crowds, it is always interesting for US expats to observe both the message and its reception, especially in today's politically charged era. In the case of Carrington and her colleagues' passionate national themes, their ideas and presentation were clearly appreciated overall.

That's not to say everyone present loved the show, there was some noticeable disparity. Considering the musicians and strength of material, there were minor stretches where the sum was less than the parts. More patrons shouted their approval than at most other offerings in the Philharmonic's jazz series, but on the other hand more people than usual left before the set was over, some after just a couple of numbers. Carrington introduced the stellar ensemble to the audience with gratitude and said the band would prefer seguing from song to song without further dialogue. "These songs are addressing many of the social concerns we have at this tricky time in the US and the rest of the world," she concluded.

Carrington's exceptionally deft touch on the snare immediately stood out on the opening "Love" by Joni Mitchell, with some nice finishing touches by guitarist Matthew Stevens. Minor soundboard issues persisted during the first few minutes as electronic tones were adjusted for symphony hall acoustics; crucially, the drum and vocal harmonics always came through clearly.

A first glance around the nearly full auditorium revealed only one guy grooving along to subdued stanzas. More than a few people in the crowd of around 1,800 departed early but the crowd's subdued initial response may have been more a matter of studious attention than a preferential statement. The assembly's average age probably skewed a bit older than some of Carrington's recent American audiences but that's no slight considering Cologne's a well educated jazz demographic.

Morgan Guerin is a first rate bassist, but the times he traded thick strings for a tenor saxophone were consistent high points. To the fans' good fortune, he employed each instrument throughout. "Anthem," a composition by keyboardist Aaron Parks also showed the skills of vocalist Debo Ray in a manner proving non-verbal intonation can be as powerful in a song as words. The alignment between Guerin's tenor and Parks' keys gave the song wings as it soared over the understated Carrington's steadily infused cadence.

About a third of the way into the 100-minute set Carrington snapped off a brief solo mixing polyrhythmic groves and multi-sample segues over the looping question "Are you messin' with me?" That basic exposition could have symbolized the heartbeat of the evening.

There were some nice, fusion-type jazz abstractions featuring only the saxophone and the drums. When Stevens' guitar returned to the mix it brought scattered, somewhat confused applause. The crowd caught up to the group's process around the middle of the show and definitely appreciated the gig's second half portion. "Purple Mountains" showed Kassa Overall's conscientious rap repertoire.

Narrative news stream loops from the US government shutdown relayed that situation's folly in a moment of ironic humor that brought many chuckles. Other glimpses of current US events had more negative language, prompting a disclaimer from Overall, "Just to be clear, this is a satire. We're speaking out against hate speech and non-acceptance."

The concert seemed to achieve a higher goal than entertainment during a climactic vocal solo by Ray with the phrase "How long can freedom wait before the healing?" Sublime closing vocals capped off a penultimate "Trapped in the American Dream." By now, the crowd was roaring in approval. The flowers each band member received as they departed the stage proved to be well-earned.

A wistful encore heated to a boil of somber emotions referencing slavery along a powerfully whispered chant of "American carelessness" that built to a haunting refrain. As people left the concert to walk along the Rhine and discuss the show, Carrington's state of the union message seemed to echo across reflected lights on the changing tide.

The merits of society and science, like music, are often interpreted through the judgement of those affected by direct contact. Based on the ultimate audience response at tonight's thought-provoking set, those truths presented were self-evident and assured.

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