How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Wadada Leo Smith's first Golden Quartet record came as a happy surprise during a burst of activity. The five albums he released on Tzadik from 1999 to 2002 focused largely on his beautifully serene, long-form compositions. But 2000's Golden Quartet seemed to mark not just a new standing band for the trumpeter but an exciting new group within the first generation of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. With fellow AACM'ers Anthony Davis (piano) and Malachi Favors Magoustous (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (not technically a part of the organization, but a drummer with a long relationship with its members), the group seemed to promise a new working band during what was a remarkable period of creativity for Smith.
An equally strong second album followed in 2002 (The Year of the Elephant, Pi), adding electronics to the group's easy, organic sound. But Favors' 2004 death shook not just Smith's group but also several AACM bands at their cores. Smith has reinvented the Quartet now as a very different band, closer to his "Yo! Miles" project with Henry Kaiser. Tabligh features Vijay Iyer on piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizer; John Lindberg on bass with effects and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. The disc borrows material (as well as its title) from an excellent project Smith presented at Merkin Hall in New York in 2005. That concert combined his group (Iyer, Lindberg and Nasheet Waits) with a trio of Middle Eastern instrumentalists in a gorgeous suite of music commissioned by the Islamic World Arts Initiative. The new album was recorded the same year (replacing DeJohnette with Shannon Jackson and dedicating a track to the former), but the Eastern elements are submerged, giving way to a slow groove familiar to Smith's followers.
Smith showed another direction for the quartet Jun. 13th at the Vision Festival. Retaining the electronic effects, Smith led a quintet (with Iyer, Lindberg and drummers Pheeroan akLaff and Famadou Don Moye) in a complex arrangement of starts and stops, fragmenting the grooves across the group without breaking the flow. It was an unusual approach and the band went into the studio after the concert to record the piece, suggesting that there may be a Golden Quintet in the near future.
Track Listing: Rosa Parks; DeJohnette; Caravan of Winter; Tabligh.
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Vijay Iyer: piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; John Lindberg: bass; Shannon Jackson: drums.