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Wadada Leo Smith: Spiritual Dimensions

Dan McClenaghan By

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Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith blows in two different directions on this two-CD set, Spiritual Dimensions. The recording is comprised of two live sets, one by Wadada Leo Smith's ongoing Golden Quintet, the second by his new Wadada Leo Smith's Organic.

The Golden Quartet, recently expanded to quintet, changes players with time. The line-up that recorded The Year of the Elephant (Pi Recordings, 2002) included drummer Jack DeJohnette, pianist Anthony Davis and bassist Malachi Favors. Two of the players from the group that recorded the splendid Tabligh (Cuneiform Records, 2008)—keyboardist Vijay Iyer and bassist John Lindberg—are back for Spiritual Dimensions, with drummers Pheeroan AkLaff and Famoudou Don Moye beefing up the horn-and-rhythm-section vehicle.

Smith is noted for his adventurous and unfettered free jazz approach. His Golden Quartet—and now Quintet—outings are some of his most accessible. That said, the live sound of Spiritual Dimensions has a freer, more abstract feeling than that of the group's previously mentioned recordings. The turbulence factor gets ratcheted up with the addition of the extra drummer, making the music sound darker, more foreboding.

"Al-Shadhili's Litany of the Sea: Sunrise" rumbles to life on bumping drums and a searching bass line before Smith blows in with a searing tone backed by a raindrop tinkling of Iyer's piano. And it should be noted that Iyer, when playing with Smith, sounds nothing like the Vijay Iyer of his Fieldwork recordings, his sideman work with Rudresh Mahanthappa or his own high momentum leader work. Indeed, the Golden Quintet, even with two drummers, makes music that seems set apart from the concept of time—drifting, scattered rhythms, unexpected, dreamscape interventions from Iyer and Smith, whose trumpet playing ranges from brassy and straight-ahead to echoing, to harsh and anguished.

The searching quality of the sound ends abruptly with the last Golden Quintet tune, "South Central L.A. Kulture." The group found what it was looking for, and it was the groove. Two minutes in, a deep, dense funk boils up, sounding like a rawer, meaner Miles Davis on On the Corner (Columbia Records, 1972), with Iyer synthesizing wah-wah guitar sounds from his keyboard, while Smith's trumpet also goes guitar-ish, with a sharp, stinging metallic sound on this fifteen minute-plus tour de force.

Wadada Leo Smith's Organic, goes deeper into the groove on the second disc. "South Central L.A. Kulture" is reprised, wandering longer in the beginning, then finding a thicker funk with four guitars, two basses, a cello and drums laying down a heavy trudging backdrop for Smith's piercing trumpet.

"Angela Davis," nineteen minutes of dance-inducing, bass-heavy groove—multiple guitars wailing, wah-wahing, slashing and slithering—serves as a highlight, if one must be chosen; and "Organic" opens like a mechanical wind chime in an electric church, with a crew of mechanic/priests tweaking the machinery until they mesh, once more, into a synchronization of the groove.

With the ambitious Spiritual Dimensions, Wadada Leo Smith has created a strangely entrancing music, and one of his finest recordings.

Track Listing: CD1:Al-Shadhili's Litany of the Sea: Sunrise; Pacifica; Umar at the Dome of the Rock, Parts 1 & 2; Crossing Sirat; South Central L.A. Kulture. CD2: South Central L.A. Kulture; Anglela Davis; Organic; Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Vijay Iyer: piano and synthesizer (CD1); John Lindberg: bass (CD1); Pheeroan Aklaff: drums; Don Moye: drums (CD1)l Michael Gregory: electric guitar (CD2); Brandon Ross: electric guitar (CD2); Nels Cline: 6 and 12 string electric guitars (CD2); Lamar Smith: electric guitar (CD2#1, CD2#4); Okkyung Lee: cello CD2); Skuli Sverrisson: electric bass (CD2); John Lindberg: acoustic bass (CD2).

Title: Spiritual Dimensions | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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