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Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart's Reflections

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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To assess Wadada Leo Smith's contribution to the literature of his chosen instrument—the trumpet—as his sole claim to fame would be touching just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of his importance in the scheme of contemporary music. Firstly, there is a bottomless depth to him that rivals that of musicians such as Yusef Lateef and Adam Rudolph. His development of "Ankhrasmation"—profound graphic musical scores—have not borrowed from Karl-Heinz Stockhausen's European ones, but rather, have grown organically from his Afro-American roots. Moreover, his music rises from a wellspring of universal spiritualism and like some ancient fire on the mountain, appears to place the highest importance of being an artiste to listening to the voice of The Divine One in the silence of the heart.

With an ear almost obsessively tuned to the uninhibited beating of his own tabula rasa, Smith has crafted his latest opus, Heart's Reflections—a large, majestic score in and out of the spaces of his musical universe. This is a composition worthy of a reading by a much larger ensemble, but somehow, Smith makes it work with his Organic outfit. At its center is the confluence of several guitars, led by Michael Gregory and Brandon Ross, and the glue that holds it all together is Smith, with his beautifully bronzed and swaggering trumpet ululations.

Smith draws everything to himself like a solar figure. He ignites the music as it meanders in and out of the center of each musical instrument and instrumentalist. Bassists John Lindberg and Skúli Sverrisson, and percussion colorist Pheeroan AkLaff form the alternate center, which appears to take over when Smith is soaring outwards from within the musical geometry, exploring the sonic edge of the music. The meditative nature of this album begins even before Smith retreats into his holy zone. It begins when the trumpeter pays tribute to another trumpeter, who was also known for his own soul-searching music. "Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden" sets the breathtaking pace for the more meditative stretches of the album, which is contained in two long canticles that form several aspects of the "Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification."

Spread across two CDs, this is the centerpiece of the work; a sprawling, yet tightly controlled piece that highlights collective improvisation at its finest. The music of this suite spirals outwards with magnificent abandon, with each musician in the collective singing impressively as well as responding to each other. All of this is superbly controlled by Smith's piercing trumpet, which impales the center of the score so that all of it revolves around the axis of his horn.

Two more sketches—one dedicated to the poet and novelist, Toni Morrison; the other to AACM alum Leroy Jenkins—are achingly beautiful and complete the ponderous beauty of this landmark album, from an artiste whose profound musical spiritualism is spectacularly matched by his unbridled virtuosity as a trumpeter.

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