Wadada Leo Smith: Spiritual Dimensions (2009)
For a long time, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has pushed the boundaries of experimental jazz. The records he made during the seventies for his own Kabell label have become a richly treasured legacy of the avant-garde. Spiritual Dimensions, a two-CD set dedicated to his working bands, The Golden Quintet and Wadada Leo Smith's Organic, finds him exploring two different pathways: meditative free music and electrifying experimental funk. What the two approaches share is a deeply spiritual bent, and the fact that both bands were recorded live helps to propagate the feeling of an intense musical congregation.
The first disc is dedicated to The Golden Quintet and sees Smith in the company of pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist John Lindberg, and the double drum attack of Pheeroan AkLaff and Famoudou Don Moye. Together they create hypnotizing rhythmic patterns, which are punctuated by Smith's transcendental lines. Iyer's percussive playing on "Umar at the Dome of the Rock, parts 1 & 2" adds a welcome contrast to the fluorescent spaciousness of the trumpet.
While the rhythm section creates a rhythmic punch where the bass is slapped rather than played, Smith is able to break the time signature with his lines that seem to float in and out of a slowly unfolding continuum of rhythms, but in the end a regular free funk groove is established with "South Central L.A. Kulture," a premonition of an aesthetic that is fully explored on the second disc, featuring Wadada Leo Smith's Organic.
If the Golden Quartet focuses on pure percussive rhythms, then Wadada Leo Smith's Organic, with its overwhelming line-up of four guitarists, two bassists, and a cellist, is an exploration of the texture of strings. The music owes something to Miles Davis' electric recordings of the seventies, a legacy Smith previously has acknowledged with the guitarist Henry Kaiser on Yo Miles (Shanachie, 1998), but the trumpeter still manages to carve his own sonic territory.
From the elegiac opening on the second version of "South Central L.A. Kulture" to the spaced out soundscapes and spiky funk of "Organic," Smith creates a unique world of sound where rhythms are more than mere earthly creations, but rather something which aspires to a beauty of metaphysical proportions.
Track Listing: CD1:Al-Shadhili's Litany of the Sea: Sunrise; Pacifica; Umar at the Dome of the Rock, Parts 1 & 2; Crossing Sirat; South Central L.A. Kulture. CD2: South Central L.A. Kulture; Anglela Davis; Organic; Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy.
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Vijay Iyer: piano and synthesizer (CD1); John Lindberg: bass (CD1); Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Don Moye: drums (CD1); Michael Gregory: electric guitar (CD2); Brandon Ross: electric guitar (CD2); Nels Cline: 6 and 12 string electric guitars (CD2); Lamar Smith: electric guitar (CD2#1, CD2#4); Okkyung Lee: cello CD2); Skuli Sverrisson: electric bass (CD2); John Lindberg: acoustic bass (CD2).