Wadada Leo Smith's music is often celestial, but the man himself is of this Earthof America, in particular, the progeny of people brought to the Western Hemisphere involuntarily. People who have historically been treated as less than human, for the "sin" of having dark skin. This goes on. The true sin, the flames of racism, are stoked by a former and possibly future (God help us all) presidenta cruel, sociopathic, immoral, dishonest racist.
Wadada Leo Smith is America. An artist, to all appearances, at peace, a man without bitterness or rancor concerning those who would relegate him to second class status. He is here to create art, and he does so, prolifically: Sacred Ceremonies (2021), Trumpet (2021), The Chicago Symphonies (2021) String Quartets Nos. 1 -12 (2022), and now The Emerald Duets (2022). All of these were released on TUM Records, and this is just his boxed setsseventeen CDs in total. A celebration of his eighty years on planet Earth.
Emerald Duets is a five CD set that features the trumpeter teamed with four different drummersPheeroan AkLaff, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink andon two CDsJack DeJohnette. All are veterans of the avant- garde, with DeJohnnette boasting a good deal more straight ahead cred from his long tenure in Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio. All of these masters make the drums sing; they can make the drum kit pull the music in the direction of the cosmic, especially in the company of Wadada Leo Smith. It is often said that a piano is a one player orchestra. The same can be said for the drum set, especially on The Emerald Duets, with its spacious approach thats let nuance and subtlety take center stage.
The first disc is called Litanies, Prayers, and Meditations, a title that describes, perfectly and especially, Smith's duo work with drummersa patient delivery of ideas, either well-considered or off the cuff, the feeling of an experience of profundity, with an often stark soundWadada Leo Smith the center of some sonic solar system, with the bumps and rattles and splashes rolls of the drummers serving as orbiting satellites: rocky worlds, gas giants, innumerable asteroids, all suspended in the vastness of space, obeying the immutable laws of gravity.
Now, for "The Patriot Act, Unconstitutional and A Force That Destroys Democracy." It is a Smith composition that appears three times on The Emerald Duetsonce each with drummers akLaff, Cyrille and DeJohnnette. The rights-eroding law was passed after the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City. Each take on the tune has a different flavor. All of them have a sense of velvet glove defiance, of subdued turbulence and unwavering resolve. Smith is a political artist, and he is also a champion of the underdog, and of the resilience of the human spirit, an American artist synchronized completely with his internal drummer, and with the beautiful and expansive complexities of akLaff, Bennink, Cyrille and DeJohnette.
In addition to the trumpet and drum sounds, Smith and DeJohnette play piano of two of the discs, adding a sweetening of percussive expression to the mix.
Fully understanding Wadada Leo Smith may be impossiblehe seems extraordinarily deep, but a read of his song titles below can shed some light on his mindset, his vision of the world.
Disc 1: Litanies, Prayers and Meditations: The Prayer (For Keith Jarrett); First
Meditation from the Heart; the Beauty and the Beloved; The Uyghur in Xinjiang, China;
Rumi’s Masnavi: A Sonic Expression, Parts I - IV; A Sound Litany on Peace; The Patriot Act:
Unconstitutional and a Force That Destroys Democracy; A Sonic Litany on Justice; Second
Meditation from the Heart: the Beloved, The Beauty.
Disc 2: Havana: The Patriot Act: Unconstitutional and a Force that Destroys
Democracy; Havana, the Maghrib Prayer and Reflections;United States Representative Ilhan
Omar; Jeanne Lee: In a Jupiter Mood; Donald Ayer: The Master of Sound and Energy Forms; A
Rainbow Sonic Ark for Tomasz Ludwik Stanko (1942 - 2018); Haitian Independent Nation in
1804 But Not Recognized by Britain, France, Germany, the United States and Others: A
Designed Tragedy; Mongeze Fezi.
Disc 3: Mysterious Sonic Fields: Chrysanthemum F On a Moutaintop (for
Katherein Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson; Largo: a Mysterious Love Sonic
(forShana, Robson andSarah); Louis Armstrong in New York City and Accra, ghana; Ornette
Coleman at the World’s Fair of Science and Art in Fort Worth, Texas; The CallA Duet
Between Joseph “King” Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton; Light Garden in a Dream Space, A
Remembrance of Shaba of Ethiopia; Han Bennink on Fifth Avenue, NYC; Johnny Dyani: the
Artist who Imagined a New South Africaa Celebration.
Disc 4: Freedom Summer: The Legacy:Sandalwood and Sage; Freedom Summer;
Meditation: A Sonic Circle of Double Piano Resonance; The Patriot Act: Unconstitutional and
a Force that Destroys Democracy; Silence, Quietness and Very Still.
Disc 5: Paradise: The Gardens and Fountains: Part I: The River of Abundance;
Part II: The Fountain of Tasnim; Part III: The Supreme Fountain; Part IV: Exaltation and Musk;
Part V: Pomegranate and Herbal Teas.