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Wadada Leo Smith / Ed Blackwell: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer

Dan McClenaghan By

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The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer is a set full of brash, in-your-face spontaneity, which is a meeting of expectations when the musicians at hand are trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Wadada Leo Smith and the late drummer, Ed Blackwell. Smith's contribution to the free jazz cannon stretches back to his days with Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), while Blackwell rose to prominence as a member of Ornette Coleman's legendary quartet.

The set, recorded live at Brandeis University in 1986, opens with "Uprising," a tune of jumbled African rhythms roiling behind a bright and lyrical trumpet. "Love" has a feeling a bluesy jubilation, an enchanting yet on-edge momentum of orchestral percussion behind Smith's straight forward, sometimes anguished lines.

The duo format seems to suit Smith. His Wisdom in Time (Intake Records, 2007) featured a pairing of the trumpeter with drummer Gunter Baby Sommer; and on Compassion (Meta Records, 2006), he teamed with multiple mode percussionist Adam Rudolph. Both were spiritual, meditative outings, making The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer sound a bit more grounded, but every bit as vibrant and bold as those later duo sets.

Smith also plays mbira (African thumb piano) and flute—the way Coleman occasionally breaks out violin and trumpet—and sings on "Seeds of the Forgotten Flower," a spiritually-tinged human rights hymn.

The title tune has an implacable, train-rumbling-down-the-tracks rhythm, with Smith sounding somehow relaxed and intense at the same time, while "Mto: The Celestial River" takes a more meditative turn. Smith adds a wind chime mbira flutter behind his vocal on "Don't You Remember," and blows long clean lines in dialogue with Blackwell's busy groove on "Buffalo People: A Blues Ritual Dance."

This earlier career set is a superb addition to Smith's duo discography.

Track Listing: Uprising; Love; Seeds of a Forgotten Flower; The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer; Mto: the Celestial River; Don't You Remember; Sellassie-I; Seven Arrows in the Garden of Light; Buffalo People: A Blues Ritual Dance; Albert Ayler In a Spiritual Light.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn, mbira flute, voice. Ed Blackwell: drums and percussion.

Title: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Kabell Records


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