Like several exceptional modern era composers from Ornette Coleman to John Zorn to Tyshawn Sorey, the "jazz" appellation has only anecdotal application to the latter-day calling of Wadada Leo Smith as a composer. On his previous Cuneiform releases Ten Freedom Summers (2012) and America's National Parks (2016), Smith worked with an ear toward confronting injustice and raising social awareness of issues that share a broad platform. He continues in that vein with Rosa Parks: Pure Love , subtitled "An Oratorio of Seven Songs."
The compositions are both historical and cathartic in context as Smith spent significant time working on these pieces while his daughter recovered from being run down by a car. The paean to the pioneering heroine of the Civil Rights movement was premiered in New York City in the late summer of 2016. Aside from the elaborateness of the compositions, Smith has employed a variety of unusual formations with which to render the fifteen pieces, which are the subset of his "seven songs." The text of the oratorio is performed by three women representing the essence of diversity; China's Min Xiao-Fen, Mexico's Carmina Escobar and American opera singer Karen Parks bring the words to life. Smith has a long-held affinity for string quartets and brings in the RedKoral Quartet with whom he has worked dating back to Ten Freedom Summers. Elsewhere, he features excerpts from Anthony Braxton's For Alto (Delmark, 1969), Leroy Jenkins's Solo Concert (India Navigation, 1977, LP), and Steve McCall's Air Time (Nessa, 1977), from the drummer's time with the free jazz trio Air.
The legacy of Rosa Parks is not a new topic for Smith; he recorded a composition in her honor on his 2008 album Tabligh (Cuneiform). He opens this comprehensive tribute with an unbroken sequence of "Prelude: Journey" and "Vision Dance 1: Resistance and Unity." Smith's Blue Trumpet Quartet begins with a stirring set up that announces the RedKoral String Quartet and electronics. With "Rosa Parks: Mercy, Music for Double Quartet" the music becomes more exotic; Shalini Vijayan's violin, coupled with operatic vocalist Karen Parks, bringing Smith's elements together into an identifiable theme. Creative styles then vary throughout the suite: the avant-garde nature of "Song 1: The Montgomery Bus Boycott -381 Days of Fire" sharply contrasts with the jazz and classical incidents within "Song 2: The First Light, Gold; Vision Dance 2: Defiance, Justice and Liberation." The final movement, "Song 7: Pure Love," "The Known World: Apartheid," and "Postlude: Victory!" once again collects musical componentsif not the textas less of a summing up than a look forward.
Smith began composing at twelve, influenced by the varied works of John Lewis, Ornette Coleman, Bela Bartok and others. Those disparate inspirations have been present in Smith's music for some time but not in the challenging manner we hear on Rosa Parks: Pure Love . Thankfully, Smith continues to mine inspiration from our need for that inspiration and does so in an inimitable way.
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!
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.
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