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Wadada Leo Smith: Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs

Doug Hall By

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Acclaimed trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and educator Wadada Leo Smith has released an oratorio of seven songs inspired by the iconic civil rights leader Rosa Parks. In his own words, Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs is "concerned with ideas of freedom, liberty and justice, a meditation centered around the civil rights movement." Looking at Smith's more than 50 years of creative and artistic vision, this release is yet another inspired organic musical direction that has established him as one of the leading composers and performers of contemporary music.

With this personal homage, Smith is taking himself and his audience on another musical and spiritual journey, making discoveries with sparse instrumentation, solo vocalists, spoken word, and historical video presentation, with live performances scheduled for 2019. This tribute to Parks beautifully mixes a world of exceptional vocal parts between African American Karen Parks, Min Xiao-Fen from China, and Carmina Escobar from Mexico. These ethereal voices are accompanied by the strings of the RedKoral Quartet and the Blue Trumpet Quartet of Smith, Ted Daniel, Hugh Ragin, and Graham Haynes. Drummer Pheeroan AkLaff joins on drums and electronic music is provided by Hardedge. With minimal instrumentation, Smith continuously conveys the spiritual narrative of Parks's extraordinary and fearless actions that, in Smith's words, "generated a movement worldwide for liberty and justice for human beings."

Although making demands of the listener's attention on each of the seven songs, Smith delivers the sum of the parts, utilizing the full range of emotion available in instrumentation and vocals. The titles elicit Parks's feelings as she makes her journey, with headings such as "Resistance and Unity," "Defiance, Justice And Liberation," and "Postlude: Victory!" Smith's compositions reveal a contemplation of sounds evoking the full range of Rosa Parks's humanity.

In my recent conversation with Smith regarding the nature and evolution of his music, the word "creation" replaced "improvisation." Creation, according to Smith is "the process of making art in the present moment." With this release, Smith is seeking just that: to paraphrase his explanation, emotion is not written into a specific note or a set solo. From a musician's standpoint, he explains, "listen to Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong—they have four to five different kinds of B flat." On his highly acclaimed and awarded-winning release America's National Park (2017, Cuneiform Records), Smith's themes also set a mood for the players to sketch their own interpretations. "Yellowstone," Smith's ode to the first National Park, epitomizes the spontaneous reaction and interplay of instruments.

Clearly, Smith is an artist who does not see borders but instead sees a wider palette of sounds unique to individual musicianship. Smith's Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs finds an ever-inquisitive artist taking chances to explore and discover "what is right in front of us" musically, rewarding the listener along the way.

Track Listing: Prelude: Journey; Vision Dance 1: Resistance and Unity; Rosa Parks: Mercy, Music for Double Quartet; Song 1: The Montgomery Bus Boycott - 381 Days of Fire; Song 2: The First Light, Gold; Vision Dance 2: Defiance, Justice and Liberation; Song 3: Change It!; Song 4: The Truth; Song 5: No Fear; Vision Dance 3: Rosa´s Blue Lake; Song 6: The Second Light; Vision Dance 4: A Blue Casa; Song 7: Pure Love; The Known World: Apartheid; Postlude: Victory!

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith, composer, trumpet; Karen Parks, vocalist; Min Xiao-Fen, vocalist; Carmina Escobar, vocalist; Shalini Vijayan, violin; Mona Thian, violin; Andrew McIntosh, viola; Ashley Walters, cello; Ted Daniels, trumpet; Hugh Ragin, trumpet; Graham Haynes, cornet; Pheeroan akLaff, drum-set; Hardedge, electronic;

Title: Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: TUM Records

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