John Zorn's Tzadik label continues to honor the genius of Wadada Leo Smith, this time with a crucial collection of material he recorded and released himself on his Kabell label in the seventies. This four-CD box set gathers Creative Music 1, Reflectativity, Song of Humanity, and Ahkreanvention, plus over two hours of unreleased material.
Creative Music 1 features Smith solo. Like his brother AACM members in the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Smith fills the performance frame with remarkably imaginative improvisations on trumpet and moves easily to other sources of sound: various percussion instruments, bicycle horns, pans, flutes, and toys. Both "Nine (9) Stories on a Mountain" and "Improvisations No.4" have extended percussion jaunts joining unique trumpet song. The title track moves back and forth between the two. "aFmie-Poem DancE 3" displays his artistry on flugelhorn, while on "Ogotommeli: Dogon Sage" he creates an Indonesian feel playing gamelan. "Seeds" and "Zekr" are gems of virtuosity, while the longer "Until the Fire" maps the breadth of Smith's vision.
Reflectativity pays an early visit to the Smith/Anthony Davis association that continues to grow. With Wes Brown on bass, "Reflectativity" represents a groundbreaking extended improvisation/composition piece. Re-recorded 25 years later for Tzadik with Malachi Favors replacing Brown, the original bristles with activity, from Davis' restless piano against the brisk bass to Smith's clattering percussion and incisive trumpet. The slyer "T Wmuki-D" shows Smith and company's ability to use silence as a fourth band member, a factor in much of Smith's work. As the piece develops, Brown flies over the fretboard to Smith's grounded flugelhorn. Davis leads the "North American Stomp," which settles into a trio improvisation with Smith flexing his embouchure. Composed or improvised, "Visions" displays the beauty of three working as one, deep listening all the way.
Song of Humanity introduces a larger ensemble, including Pheeroan Ak Laff on drums and Oliver Lake on alto sax and flute. After Smith and Brown introduce the title track, Lake takes it apart. Smith returns, still muted, with Brown, then both lay out for a Davis interlude. "Lexicon" features Lake on soprano and more involved group playing. The band dazzles with complex interplay and imagination. Davis branches out to electric piano with "Peacocks, Gazelles, Dogwood Trees and Six Silver Coins," but doubles with Brown on acoustic. Lake and Smith play a short arranged segment before breaking loose, and then Davis moves to atmospheric organ. Lake puts in hard time on alto for "Of Blues and Dreams," and Davis devises some dense counterpoint. Davis gives the unreleased "Play Ebony Play Ivory" an elegant sendoff. The circular half hour's performance ends with three flutes in a conference of the birds.
Finally, Ahkreanvention returns full circle to present Smith solo, moving from horn to percussive effects. The previously unreleased "Ankrasmation" features twenty minutes of Smith blowing a ribbon of melody that crackles, roams, and reflects. A brief workout on cymbals defines "Atoke," while "The Zebra Goes Wild" has Smith firing up the flugelhorn, with brief digressions on harmonica and gongs.
This generous set includes a 28 page booklet with session photos and tributes from Zorn, Davis, Henry Kaiser, and George Lewis, among others. A fitting tribute to a living master, and a fascinating look at beautitul work created over 30 years ago in near obscurity, much of it available for the first time.
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith, flugel horn, trumpet little instruments; Anthony Davis, piano; Oliver Lake, alto, soprano sax, flute; Wesley Brown, bass; Pheeroan AkLaff, drums and percussion.