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Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo: Ancestors

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo are grand old men in the annals of adventurous jazz, having played in a dizzying variety of settings through more than five decades. More to the point, both have amply shown a capacity for nuanced playing in demanding, interactive improvisational formats. An intimate duet performance by the pair, featured on Ancestors—sensitively recorded by Suikki Jääskä in Finland in February 2011—is thus a sure thing. The question is whether the result will exceed excellence and achieve sublimity. To put the matter metaphorically: will this be merely a sparkling tête-à-tête between two brilliant conversationalists, flitting from one witty bon mot to the next, or will the conversationalists hit upon profound truths?

Ancestors delights, first, for the sustained intelligence, creativity and sound of each player. Smith is an encyclopedia of timbres, dynamics and every other conceivable trumpet-playing resource. Moholo-Moholo, meanwhile, keeps up with the Joneses: his groove is as deep as Philly Joe's, he is as multi-limbed as Elvin, and he draws upon the full range of his kit's sonic possibilities.

Individual excellence, meanwhile, is matched by effective interplay. "Moholo-Moholo/Golden Spirit" offers a textbook lesson in jazz empathy. Smith plays an earnest melodic line (one that variously evokes, in passing, saxophonist Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and pianist Joe Zawinul's "In A Silent Way") with the trumpet mute in place. Through most of the cut, Moholo-Moholo plays a regular pulse, but varies the dynamics sensitively and ingeniously in response to Smith's rising and falling intensity.

Toward the beginning of "No Name In The Street—James Baldwin," the roles seem to be reversed, with the drummer establishing the temperature and the trumpeter expertly matching the heat level.

What lends this record its coherence is Moholo-Moholo's steady, low- end pulse; its variety stems from Smith's restless stylistic searching. These roles become more apparent during the wholly improvised five-part suite that gives the album its title. It's during the twenty-five-plus minute "Ancestors," in fact, that Smith and Moholo-Moholo sound most likely to transcend witty conversation into deeper truths. Smith digs into "Part 2" with split notes and an implied time signature pulling against the drummer's vaguely New Orleans second-line rhythm. Over the rapid march of "Part 3," Smith's trumpet—muted at first and at the end—explores bizarre but expressive sputtering experiments. "Part 1" and "Part 5" are percussion only, with shout-outs from the drummer to a long list of ancestors (drummers Ed Blackwell, Han Bennink, and Art Blakey among them), seconded by Smith: The metaphorical conversation comes back to earth with a literal conversation.

Track Listing: Moholo-Moholo/Golden Spirit; No Name In The Street, James Baldwin; Jackson Pollock, Action; Siholaro; Ancestors.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, percussion; Louis Moholo-Moholo: drums, percussion, voice.

Title: Ancestors | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: TUM Records

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