45

Wadada Leo Smith's Mbira: Dark Lady of the Sonnets

Raul d'Gama Rose By

Sign in to view read count
Wadada Leo Smith's Mbira: Dark Lady of the Sonnets In the epic narratives and gorgeous elegies of trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith lies a heart immersed in the spirituality of the blues. His music drinks from an ancient well that predates organized worship and actually resides in one that celebrates the Creator in his awesome glory. This is why Smith is able to make his horn not merely an extension of his lips and tongue, but of his heart and soul. His unique voice is an extension of these organs, which form the temple of his worshipful self. Smith's voice is truly special—neither shrill nor gruff, although these form the extremities of his extraordinary range. However, he plays melodies in short, pithy lines punctuated by glittering, bronzy hallelujahs and a gravely uttered amen. Smith plays these lines like ancient doxologies and reverent refrains, as if pleading the case for the union of an earthly soul to a higher power.

One of these souls is "Sarah Bell Wallace." The real-life character is Smith's mother, whose radiant personality loomed larger-than-life in her hometown in the Mississippi Delta. Smith celebrates her in a long, elegiac chart on Dark Lady of the Sonnets, remarkably detaching her from the maternal relationship she had with him, and instead casting her in the context of the community she served. Employing a declarative style, almost like a town crier, Smith carves a sonic statue, finishing off characteristics in short, sharp flourishes that appear to be more than merely decorative embellishments.

Sarah Bell Wallace is one of two central characters on this wonderful album. The other is "The Dark Lady of the Sonnets" (who is actually Billie Holiday, not the lover of Elizabethan poet and playwright, William Shakespeare), the character in an elegiac poem by legendary African-American poet Amiri Baraka. This chart forms the spine of the album, a superbly crafted song embroidered with the voice of Chinese vocalist and pipa player, Min Xiao-Fen and percussion colorist Pheeroan AkLaff. Baraka's elegiac magnum opus is turned into an extraordinary journey into the life of the great vocalist, with akLaff's powerful drumming and Smith's reverent trumpet and flugelhorn playing key roles in describing her.

The other key feature of this album is "Mbira," music for a ballet played in the style of a spiritual form of instrumental music from the Shona peoples of Zimbabwe. The choice of this chart is inextricably linked to the drinking of water from the ancient well. Smith ties this all in with glorious lines that shoot out of the bell of his horn. Significantly the Shona people, living near the Great Rift Valley, are at the heart of human civilization, making this a rather special theme for a significant album by Wadada Leo Smith.


Track Listing: Sarah Bell Wallace; Blues: Cosmic Beauty; Zulu Water Festival; Dark Lady of the Sonnets; Mbira.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet and flugelhorn; Min Xiao-Fen: pipa and voice; Pheeroan akLaff: drums.

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: TUM Records | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Before The Silence CD/LP/Track Review Before The Silence
by John Sharpe
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Process And Reality CD/LP/Track Review Process And Reality
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1 CD/LP/Track Review Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Backlog CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by Mark F. Turner
Published: February 24, 2017
Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read "Serpentines" CD/LP/Track Review Serpentines
by John Sharpe
Published: December 15, 2016
Read "Love Song" CD/LP/Track Review Love Song
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 20, 2016
Read "Brain//Child" CD/LP/Track Review Brain//Child
by Geno Thackara
Published: December 24, 2016
Read "We Two" CD/LP/Track Review We Two
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 28, 2016
Read "Slag" CD/LP/Track Review Slag
by Mark Corroto
Published: January 29, 2017
Read "Of The Night" CD/LP/Track Review Of The Night
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 28, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!