Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart’s Reflections (2011)
Wadada Leo Smith is currently making some of the most distinctive music on the planet; its expressive depth, as exemplified by Heart's Reflections, seemingly born not merely of one lifetime, but of several. The trumpeter's means of expression, which has never been the stuff of mere virtuosity, is now purged of all excess, resulting in something else, deeply enriched with clarity of thought and execution. It could argued that such clarity doesn't come easily, but in bringing together the musicians Smith has on this two-disc, it's clear that Smith sure knows how to pick them.
With its multiple facets, "Leroy Jenkins's Air Steps (for Leroy Jenkins)" illustrates these points. The music is, by turns, meditative and harshly dissonant, ensuring that the piece's underlying unity emerges only gradually. When wired funk comes to dominate proceedings at around the 6:20 mark, Smith's long-term fascination with Miles Davis' electric music from the first half of the 1970s also comes to the fore, but put through Smith's prism to emerge as something distinct in its own right.
There's something of the swamp about "Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden," but such is the fertility of Smith's contribution that it has the effect of pulling the music in a somewhat contrary direction; still, because this is rarefied music, the apparent contradiction is easily resolved.
That, with the passing of time, Smith is becoming an ever more absorbent musical sponge is best highlighted on the multi-part title track, where each section has a title in its own right, spanning the two discs. Thus, the reverential "The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts Part II" is enhanced, in no small part, by Angelica Sanchez's electric piano, before the specter of Miles Davis looms again briefly, only to be usurped by a meditative air that comes not merely from Smith's obviously deep spirituality, but as the result of collective in-the-moment thinking, which provokes a quiet sense of wonder.
Coming back to Heart's Reflections for the sheer listening experience is also a spiritual experience in itself. Deep though it can be, it is in some respects merely a starting point for adventures limited only by the imagination. Truly this is music for the ages.
Track Listing: CD1: Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden; Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification (for Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili): The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts, Part I; The Dihkr of Radiant Hearts, Part II; The Majestic Way; The Shaykh, as far as Humaythira; Spiritual Wayfarers; Certainty; Ritual Purity and Love, Part I; Ritual Purity and Love, Part II. CD2: Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification (for Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili): Silsila; The Well: From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water, Part I; From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water, Part II; Toni Morrison: The Black Hole (Sagittarius A*), Conscience and Epic Memory (for Toni Morrison); Leroy Jenkins's Air Steps (for Leroy Jenkins).
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, electric trumpet; Casey Anderson: alto sax; Casey Butler: tenor sax; Stephanie Smith: violin; Angelica Sanchez: piano, electric piano; Michael Gregory: guitars; Brandon Ross: guitar; Lamar Smith: guitar; Josh Gerowitz: guitar; Skuli Sverisson: bass, 6-string bass; John Lindberg: basses; Pheeroan Ak Laff: drums; Mark Trayle: laptop; Charlie Burgin: laptop.