As he approached his eightieth birthday, Wadada Leo Smith could have been content to sit out the year of nothingness that Covid-19 brought in 2020 and beyond. With his 2013 Pulitzer Prize nomination, a 2016 Doris Duke Award, and nearly one-hundred recording credits, the trumpeter & multi-instrumentalist has landed at the top of countless polls throughout his distinguished career. But, stepping away from the music, if only for a brief respite, is not part of the improviser's plan so, in the first half of 2021, Smith gives us two TUM Records box sets. Here, the focus is on his three-disc release, Sacred Ceremonies.
The three discs were recorded between late 2015 and mid-2016 in the West Orange, New Jersey, studio of bassist Bill Laswell. The first disc features a Milford Graves and Smith duo, the second a duo with Laswell, and the third, a combined trio. The Smith-Graves disc is a crackling collection of creative energy. "Nyoto 2" and "Baby Dodds In Congo Square" account for almost half the side. Graves' astounding methodology, rapid delivery, and clarity feel like a springboard for Smith's ethereal trumpet. The Laswell section is highlighted by another long work, "Ascending the Sacred Waterfall: A Ceremonial Practice." Laswell, a one-person spectrum of aural sensations, alternates between reverberating shapes and translucent shadows. Smith's lower register is crystalline and moving; the whole piece is iridescent. When the trio joins up, opening with "Social JusticeA Fire for Reimagining the World," it feels like the first two discs had built up to this outstanding section. Smouldering improvisations launch the blistering "The Healer's Direct Energy," and carry over to "An Epic Journey Inside the Center of Color."
Smith, Graves (who passed away in 2021) and Laswell come from diverse experiences and significant achievements in music. They do not seem like top- of-mind personnel for a joint project, but they have history. Smith and Laswell recorded together in 2014 and 2017. Graves and Laswell had issued two duo albums, and Smith and Graves performed with John Zorn at the saxophonist's 2015 namesake festival. The three define virtuosity and, in these various pairings, they eclipse genre and approach with unconventional ideas, beautifully executed.
01-03 Nyoto 1-3 / 04 Baby Dodds In Congo Square / 05 Celebration Rhythms / 06 Poetic Sonics / 07 The Poet: Play Ebony, Play Ivory (For Henry Dumas).
01 Ascending the Sacred Waterfall - A Ceremonial Practice / 02 Prince - The Blue Diamond Spirit / 03 Donald Ayler´s Rainbow Summit / 04 Tony Williams / 05 Mysterious Night / 06 Earth - A Morning Song / 07 Minnie Riperton - The Chicago Bronzeville Master Blaster.
01 Social Justice - A Fire for Reimagining the World / 02.Myths of Civilizations and Revolutions / 03 Truth in Expansion / 04 The Healer´s Direct Energy / 05 Waves of Elevated Horizontal Forces / 06 An Epic Journey Inside the Center of Color / 07 Ruby Red Largo - A Sonnet.
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