Wadada Leo Smith: Red Hill

John Sharpe By

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A first time meeting in the studio pitches avant-garde trumpet master Wadada Leo Smith against a crew of improvisers who cover diverse bases. All three of Smith's collaborators work together in Slobber Pup, what you might term a thinking man's noise band, as well as overlapping in a range of other outfits including Metallic Taste of Blood and Spanish Donkey. Best known in jazz circles will be Joe Morris, here on double bass, and keyboardist Jamie Saft who features in multiple John Zorn projects including Electric Masada, and contributes piano to Smith's Lake Biwa (Tzadik, 2002). Bringing up the rear is Hungarian grindcore and improv drummer Balazs Pandi.

Together they create six intense and densely voiced collective improvisations. Ambient mood and texture is as important as rhythm or counterpoint. Pandi in particular forces the pace with his non-stop barrage, as bass and drums form a clattering wall of sound. Saft's keyboards variously match or oppose and at times he resorts to a series of glissandos to cut through. Smith meanwhile is imperious, interacting with the others predominantly by taking an opposing stance The default position is manifest in the tension generated by the contrast between Smith's poised trumpet fanfares and the choppy continuous backing, prominent on "Gneiss," "Janus Face" and parts of "Agpaitic."

"Tragic Wisdom" offers a welcome variation of approaches and convergence of intent. After starting with piano runs atop tumbling drums and bass, Smith mixes ascending arpeggios and darting lines. He becomes even more assertive later, as his brass wheezes, breathes and squeals over open but squally buttressing. "Debts of Honor" continues in a similar vein, with languid trumpet over rattling cymbals, sparse piano droplets and craggy bass with Smith turning especially animated and amplified in the tumultuous final section, while "Arfvedsonite" signals a return to the initial gambit of heraldic figures over churning accompaniment. It's a solid enough date, but doesn't scale the heights of Great Lakes Suite (Tum, 2014), Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012) or Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform, 2009).

Track Listing

Gneiss; Janus Face; Agpaitic; Tragic Wisdom; Debts Of Honor; Arfvedsonite.


Wadada Leo Smith,trumpet; Jamie Saft, piano, Fender Rhodes; Joe Morris, double bass; Balazs Pandi, drums.

Additional information

Title: Red Hill | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: RareNoiseRecords


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