Dave Douglas, Wadada Leo Smith & Taylor Ho Bynum
This second evening operated at the other extreme. Following an afternoon's rehearsal of this complex, varied and ambitious music, a sound check was still in progress even as the audience was gathering. The gig began around 30 minutes late, and each set doubled its duration compared to those of the previous evening; it was, after all, a Friday night. Even so, Smith wanted to relax into the experience, to savor the unfolding of what amounted to a lot of freshly penned work. All three ensembles and settings took hold of the audience firmly, and there was no sense of crawling timepieces in the house. The epic evening rolled on by in a consistently engaging fashion.
First off, the Golden Quartet was expanded to a Golden Sextet, with Susie Ibarra joining Pheeroan akLaff on a second drum kit, and vibraphonist Bobby Naughton emerging from decades past to revive his old partnership with Smith. The rapidly ascending young Cuban pianist David Virelles replaced Angelica Sanchez from the previous evening, while John Lindberg was, as ever, on upright bass. Smith's general body language gave the impression of stern impatience and dissatisfied frustration, as he repeatedly made overt gestures to Virelles, guiding his relationship to the music's careful evolution. Smith's manner might have been the result of a certain way that he chooses to display excitement and urgency or, alternatively, he could have been expressing negative sentiments.
During previous performances by this group, his signaling wasn't so pronounced, making all of this visually distracting, here and during the next two sets. While Smith probably just prefers to seek out the best possible performances, and it might have been better for the audience to close its collective peepers, it was ultimately desirable to forge ahead and concentrate on the sheer aural input.
Rather than approach his horn with a scattershot virtuosity, Smith is more of a post-Miles Davis architectural sculptor; a fulsome, brightly talkative bugler making bold statements in the air. Or down into the depths, as he frequently adopted the Miles-ian stance of pointing his sketches down to the stage floor, painting with confident strokes or decisive trills. Smith is a very different soloist, once his stylistic approach is set beside the aerobatic machine-gun excesses of Dave Douglas and Taylor Ho Bynum (the latter actually lurking within the ranks of Smith's soon-to-come Silver Orchestra). Lindberg delivered one of the best solos, employing his wah-wah pedal as a pronounced part of its semi-electric voicings. Once again, Smith hovered beside him, almost appearing as though he was calling a halt to Lindberg's self-expression. The final piece of the sextet set was "South Central L.A. Kulture," which stood apart from the preceding pieces due to its limber, muscle-toned funk, hinting at the repertoire of Smith's electric Organic combo, which would close out the concert. The acoustic instrumentation of the Golden Sextet didn't quite match this tune's inner naturea contributing factor to its unpredictable excitement.
The middle set was a repeat performance of "Central Park," featuring vocalist Thomas Buckner. Premiered in New York City in late 2010, Buckner wasn't required to completely dominate the piece, as his contribution mostly seemed to inhabit an equal space with the collective instrumentation, occasionally rising above the mass, but never dominating. Smith's Silver Orchestra also played his "Africana 2" violin concerto, allowing for a flamboyantly citrus-stringed display by Jennifer Choi, and gave a global premiere of "Occupy The World For Life." This newest piece was more directly robust than the other two works, doubtless eager to express its message without any digressions. Smith's writing for a new music lineup successfully combines the tone and structure of a modern classical composer, but with a smoothly integrated free jazz sensibility; there were, after all, three drummers in the ranks. When reeds man Marty Ehrlich took his solos, they were amongst the most gripping and wild-spirited of the night, even more effective for being surrounded by a precisely-formed sonic architecture.