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Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa

John Sharpe By

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Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is no stranger to plugged-in performance. Like Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis, his musical systems prove just as applicable to electronic as to all-acoustic environments. Indeed one of Smith's earliest such immersions was Yo Miles! inspired by Miles' 1970s guitar shredding bands. Multiple electric strings have also formed an integral part of his Organic ensemble, as heard on Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform, 2009) and Heart's Reflections (Cuneiform, 2011). So Najwa with its quartet of electric guitarists fits easily into that lineage, although unlike Organic, Smith's smoldering trumpet constitutes the only horn here.

The cast list brings together many names familiar from previous projects, including guitarists Henry Kaiser, co-founder of Yo Miles!, Michael Gregory Jackson, who worked with Smith in the 1970s and like Smith's grandson Lamar Smith and also Brandon Ross, is part of Organic. Long time collaborator drummer Pheeroan AkLaff has also been involved with Smith regularly from 1976 onwards, while percussionist Adam Rudolph, celebrated for his extensive hook ups with Yusef Lateef, cut Compassion (Meta/Kabell, 2006) a duet date with the trumpeter. A newer but equally important presence is Bill Laswell who not only contributes electric bass but was responsible for post production and mixing.

Laswell's influence promotes a cohesive oceanic electronic swell across the five tracks, creating the feel of a suite. For his part Smith blends blistering fusillades with heraldic fanfares and blue-tinged musings which either hang above or etch across the seething landscape of pealing guitars, chattering cross rhythms, drifting synth and growling electric bass. Although the four guitars are spread across the soundstage the typically sumptuous TUM packaging provides no indication of the individual performers so you can't be sure who does what if that matters to you.

As is his custom, Smith sets his taut statements in stark relief through judicious use of space, heard to good effect during a sprightly interlude with cymbals and Rudolph's hand drums during the second part of "Ornette Coleman's Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms: A Resonance Change In The Millennium" and in his short dancing phrases in a funky open passage towards the end of "Ohnedaruth John Coltrane: The Master Of Kosmic Music And His Spirituality In A Love Supreme."

The title track shifts down a gear, with Smith's muted trumpet bubbling up out of the mix of gently chiming guitars. A similar emotional charge pervades the closing "The Empress, Lady Day: In A Rainbow Garden, With Yellow-Gold Hot Springs, Surrounded By Exotic Plants And Flowers," where Smith's carefully placed blasts amid dreamy glacial electronic washes conjure an ambience at first reflective but ultimately elegiac, as his wavering arpeggios stretch into the upper register.

As ever with Smith, the humanity transcends the circuitry and bends it to his design.

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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