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Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa

Jerome Wilson By

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Wadada Leo Smith has been on an amazingly productive streak the last few years, creating ambitious work for all kinds of configurations, large orchestras, string ensembles, quartets, duos and solo. About the only format he hadn't explored lately was the dense electronic jazz-rock he's played in the past with his groups Organic and Yo! Miles. With Najwa he finally returns to that format, heading a group featuring four guitarists, two percussionists, his own trumpet and the weighty bass guitar of Bill Laswell, playing muscular, electric music imprinted with Smith's spirtuality .

Laswell not only plays his massive, enveloping style of bass on this CD but he also produces it, shaping the music into boiling chaotic squalls coated with a thick ambient sheen. Most of the tracks are named for important musical figures. "Ornette Coleman" starts as a bubbling cauldron of squealing guitars and combustible drumming with Smith's trumpet loudly blowing on top before the music morphs into a swampy morass of bass, cymbals and conga drumming with Smith playing long bluesy lines that sound like Miles Davis in his Agartha period.

"John Coltrane" has Smith and one of the guitarists playing long notes in tandem over heavy bass and drums with wisps of electronic decoration. Eventually this leads to psychedelic guitar screaming worthy of the Grateful Dead over a furious undercurrent of wobbly Laswell bass and furious drumming by Pheeroan AkLaff and Adam Rudolph with Smith dropping in the occasional piercing virtuoso horn run. There are no indications of which guitarist solos when but all four, Michael Gregory Jackson, Henry Kaiser, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith, Wadada's grandson, seem to take turns rising out of the primordial ooze for a time. At the end the entire piece congeals into heavy dub-influenced funk with Smith blowing short, dancing phrases.

"Ronald Shannon Jackson" contrasts fast and slow rhythms at the same time. Ak Laff and Laswell kick up a furious storm while Smith and the guitarists play long, slow notes over them with a measure of twang and delay in the guitar sounds. Passages of screaming guitar bursts and eloquent trumpet eventually clear out and just leave Ak Laff, Rudolph and Laswell splashing in a thick ambiance of deep bass throbbing and thrashing drums.

There are two oases of quiet amidst all these storms. On the brief "Najwa" acoustic and electric guitars pluck slowly against an echoing electronic backdrop as Smith plays a plaintive muted horn. For a Billie Holiday dedication, "The Empress, Lady Day," Smith plays wary open trumpet against a soft electronic hum and quiet guitar chords, a mix that creates a solemn, cathedral-like hum and leads to a duet for Smith and a Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar (possibly Jackson?).

The number of career high points Wadada Leo Smith has had in the last few years is getting absurd, but here is still another one. With the invaluable help of Bill Laswell, he has taken the electric jazz-rock-funk pioneered by Miles Davis in the mid-70's into a realm of beauty and energy. The mix of guitars, electronics and drumming sometimes seems to swell with overpowering force but Smith's trumpet always brings humanity and heart to this music. This is unquestionably one of the great releases of the year.

Track Listing: Ornette Coleman's Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms: A Resonance Change in The Millennium; Ohnedaruth John Coltrane: The Master of Kosmic Music and His Spirituality in a Love Supreme; Najwa; Ronald Shannon Jackson: The Master of Symphonic Drumming and Multisonic Rhythms, Inscriptions of Rare Beauty; The Empress, Lady Day: In a Rainbow Garden, With Yellow-Gold Hot Springs, Surrounded by Exotic Plants and Flowers.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Michael Gregory Jackson: guitars; Henry Kaiser: guitars; Brandon Ross: guitars; Lamar Smith: guitars; Bill Laswell: electric bass; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Adam Rudolph: percussion.

Title: Najwa | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: TUM Records

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