Trumpets: Wadada Leo Smith; Corey Wilkes


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Wadada Leo Smith—Dark Lady of the Sonnets (TUM, 2011) Always searching for new musical vistas, the trumpet and flugelhorn player Wadada Leo Smith teams up with Min Xiao-Fen on pipa and occasional voice and Pheeroan akLaff on drums. The trio is called Mbira, and they create a very interesting album featuring five lengthy improvisations which develop dynamically from abstract beginnings and unfold in suite-like formations growing collective improvisational energy gradually like particles from the cosmic void coalescing into stars and planets. Min Xiao-Fen is particularly fascinating, with the plucked instrument akin to a lute adding depth and texture to the music. akLaff has been playing with Smith for many years and his weaving of percussion ideas from many cultures and ideas underpins much of the music's success. Smith is in particularly potent form, playing lengthy and strong lines on his instruments. “Blues: Cosmic Beauty" takes the earthiness of roots based music and melds it with percussion and strings to develop a new cohesion and opportunity for musical expression. “Dark Lady of the Sonnets" flows organically with a lyrical and narrative grace, folding in diverse influences from Africa and Asia into a rich coherent structure. This album combines the traditional aspects of ethnic and improvisational music while reaching out for the unknown without fear. Its essence is thoughtful and vital and this program is filled with powerful, involving music.

Corey Wilkes—Kind of Miles: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Katalyst, 2011) Corey Wilkes is a another trumpeter reared in the fertile Chicago scene (who probably has listened to quite a bit of Wadada Leo Smith.) So precocious was he that Wilkes was tapped to stand in for Lester Bowie in a reformed Art Ensemble of Chicago live album. On this disc, also recorded live, but at the famed Velvet Lounge in Chicago, Wilkes examines the music of another departed trumpet master, Miles Davis. But he stays away from the usual “tribute album" cliches by crafting four long dream like performances, beginning with Jerome Kern's “Yesterdays," a tune Davis often covered. After that, the band breaks out to Davis' electric material, using the melodies and ideas of the original music as jumping off points for lengthy solos and collective passages that range far and wide. Combining the acoustic and the electric in the closing “So What/It's In the Right Place" shows all sides of the band from fiery to contemplative, and the group consisting of Kevin Nabors is on tenor saxophone, Greg Spero on keyboards, Junius Paul on bass, Xavier Breaker on drums and Kahil El Zabar on percussion, mostly use the space to their advantage to meld and shape the music to their own ends. Patience is required, because their are some static spots in the lengthy jam like performances, but they are successful in their ques to use the music of Miles Davis as an inspiration rather than a destination.

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