Three significant forces spanning two generations of the forward-thinking Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians meet in a poised recital on Sun Beans Of Shimmering Light. Although recorded in 2015 at drummer Mike Reed's Constellation arts space in Chicago, the concert's genesis lies some five years earlier and 700 miles to the east.
When Reed's band People, Places & Things played the 2010 Vision Festival in NYC on the same evening as Wadada Leo Smith, the trumpeter said that they must get together. As Reed told writer Howard Reich, he thought Smith was being polite and thought no more of it. But during a subsequent encounter with multi-instrumentalist Douglas Ewart, the elder man reiterated Smith's desire. All three finally united in 2012, an occasion so successful that further meetings occurred in the following years, the last of which furnished this live recording.
While none of the pieces is credited on the sleeve, Smith and Ewart both brought charts to earlier dates, and it's easy to imagine preconception at work in the ordered but spacious interplay which makes up the five selections on the 45-minute program. The presence of three form-seeking improvisers means that where notation ends and individual expression begins is deliciously unclear. Such ambiguity and unpredictability hallmarks some of the finest music, and it's stamped all over this session.
Smith's ethos that the silence around a note is as important as the note itself is evidently shared. His trumpet mingles in measured counterpoint with Ewart's bassoon in a chamber sensibility at the start of "Constellations And Conjunctional Spaces," not disturbed by Reed's small percussion grounding. Reed buoys up further elegant interaction as Ewart's sopranino saxophone ululations threads through Smith's declamatory brass as the track proceeds. The beautiful plaintive air of the title cut constitutes another of the high points in a consistently rewarding performance.
Smith's sound exudes gravitas and a blues feeling, even though the structure is never invoked. He filters the lyricism of Miles Davis through an abstract prism. Ewart matches him with lines which variously recall hymns and folk music, while also using an array of horns and small instruments to vary the colors and balance. Reed shows himself to be a wonderfully crisp and precise drummer, evidencing an almost orchestral conception in his placement of rhythmic elements, although none of the pieces displays a steady pulse.
Setting aside the question of whether the title is a typo (it appears often enough on the sleeve to imply intent), its suggestion of an organic entity growing out of something ineffable is an apt metaphor for the consummate artistry contained within. While the repeatability of this threesome remains unknown, this set provides an account to treasure.
Constellations And Conjunctional Spaces; Sun Beans Of Shimmering Light; Super Moon Rising; Unknown Forces; Dark Tango.
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