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Wadada Leo Smith: America's National Parks

Troy Collins By

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2016 marks the centennial anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. In honor of this auspicious occasion, celebrated trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith composed a titular six-part suite for the Golden Quintet, an augmented version of his long-running flagship quartet. Rather than simply attempting to transpose scenic vistas and natural grandeur into pure sound, Smith explains in the liner notes that he is more interested in the parks as an idea—one with socio-political overtones—hence the inclusion of tributes to the city of New Orleans, for its historical contributions to American culture, and the Mississippi River, conveyed as a stark ode to the victims of slavery.

America's National Parks is but the latest installment of Smith's ongoing cultural survey of American history. The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records, 2014), and Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012)—the latter of which was inspired by America's civil rights movement—preceded this effort, each as ambitious in scale as this collection.

Smith writes and arranges spare extended pieces that find stylistic concordance with the majestic nature of his protean trumpet playing. His preference for punctuating long, plangent tones and muted glissandos with frenetic flurries of notes and frantic bursts of coruscating dissonance is mirrored in his episodic compositional style, which embraces dynamic chamber music narratives rather than standard AABA song forms.

Smith's panoramic compositions are expertly realized by an expanded incarnation of his Golden Quartet, which features pianist and award-winning composer Anthony Davis, longstanding bassist John Lindberg, in-demand drummer Pheeroan AkLaff, and the fifth and newest member, Ashley Walters on cello. Walters' sinewy lines complement the leader's clarion calls, lending a solemn timelessness to the proceedings, bolstered by Davis' harmonic sophistication, and the nuanced call-and-response interplay between Lindberg and akLaff.

The suite's six multi-part compositions range from just under seven minutes to over half an hour, rewarding repeated in-depth listening over the course of the set's hour and a half duration. Smith, one of the most renowned AACM veterans of the 1970's loft jazz scene, now in his mid-seventies, is enjoying a much deserved late career renaissance, with a growing body of work that confirms him as one of America's very own national treasures; America's National Parks is further proof of his mastery.

Track Listing: CD 1: New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718; Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920-2002: A Literary National Park; Yellowstone: The First National Park And The Spirit Of America--The Mountains, Super-Volcano Caldera And Its Ecosystem 1872. CD2: The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the river--A National Memorial Park c. 5000 BC; Sequoia/King's Canyon National Parks: The Giant Forest, Great Canyon, Cliff, Peaks, Waterfalls and Cave System 1890; Yosemite: The Glaciers, The Falls, The Wells And The Valley of Goodwill 1890.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, director Of The Ensemble; Anthony Davis: piano; Ashley Walters: cello; John Lindberg: bass; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Jesse Gilbert: video artist.

Title: America's National Parks | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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