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Wadada Leo Smith: Sounding America’s Freedom

By Published: June 18, 2012
"We have had a preview of what happens when this Republican system goes into work," Smith continues." Look what it's done to women's rights right now. Look what it's done to human rights. Look what it would like to do to the education system. All these things are bad for our society. It's a clear distinction.

"[Our rights] are being wiped out," Smith concludes. "The Republicans seem to have an open field to come up with any idea they want to that limits the political process that democracy is supposed to guarantee."

Aside from his concern for the reelection of President Obama, Smith is concerned with developments beyond the borders of the United States and outside the traditional focus of the civil rights movement. Smith perceives the struggle for civil rights as reaching a new stage, one in which "we need to have all the groups that deal with rights and privileges" to unite forces, because "[w]hen a movement concerns everybody, then it has the greatest chance to establish institutions of equality."

For this reason, Smith feels the Occupy Movement merits more attention and represents the seed of a powerful and necessary global movement for change. Smith draws a parallel to the civil rights movement in that the civil rights movement likewise was dismissed in its infancy. Moreover, like the Occupy Movement, it did not immediately achieve its goals. "[The] people who are standing on the sidelines when the Occupy Movement comes out, saying 'Well, they are just kids,' it's because they have not revitalized the notion of themselves as free people. The Occupy Movement is happening all over the world. Every time governments and the news media think they have killed it, it rises back up. And that's the way you do it. You do not stay on the front lines forever. You have waves and motion."

All of this ties back to the structure as well as the content of Ten Freedom Summers, where the integrated unit is comprised of the three dominant themes of musical innovation, spiritual seeking, and politics. Like the notes of a chord, these themes can be identified separately but, when combined, they offer the listener a clarion call to action. As Smith says: "I would like to think that the notion of harmony and balance in musical terms that I was able to achieve in this piece—that is, the balance between the two worldviews of the classical and the contemporary creative artist—that balance itself clearly demonstrates [the] idea [of continued action].

It also shows that the world is one big unit and that world being one big unit means we can use this model as an example of unification, or this model as a way in which to strive towards unification as a planet."

The end result is a monumental work that, through alternating moments of soaring strings, cacophonous polyrhythm and competing improvisations, somber bass solos and sonorous trumpet calls, represents a profound journey of contemplative quiescence, mournful reflection, and exhilarating hope. For all its complexity, that is the achievement of Ten Freedom Summers— its ability to discard preconceptions and deliver an experience of beauty in truth.

Selected Discography

Wadada Leo Smith, Ten Freedom Summers (Cueniform, 2012)

Wadada Leo Smith, Dark Lady of the Sonnets (TUM Records , 2011)

Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith Yo Miles!, Shinjuku (There Records, 2011)

Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith Yo Miles!, Lightning (There Records, 2011)

Wadada Leo Smith, The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (Kabell, 2010)

Wadada Leo Smith, Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform, 2009)

Wadada Leo Smith, America (Tzadik, 2009)

Wadada Leo Smith, Tabliq (Cuneiform, 2008)

Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith Yo Miles!, Sky Garden (Cuneiform, 2004)

Wadada Leo Smith, Red Sulphur Sky (Tzadik, 2001)

Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith, Yo Miles! (Shanachie, 1998)

Wadada Leo Smith, Tao-Njia (Tzadik, 1996)

Wadada Leo Smith, Akhreanvention (Kabell, 1981)

Marion Brown, Geechie Recollections (Impulse!, 1973)

Wadada Leo Smith, Creative Music (Kabell, 1972)

Anthony Braxton, 3 Compositions of New Jazz (Delmark, 1968)

Photo Credits

Page 1: Martin Morissette

All Other Photos: Courtesy of Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith

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