The intrepid composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's creative energy continues unabated after a career spanning over four decades. His artistry has crystalized and matured without losing its progressive edge and The Great Lakes Suites is the fruit of this sophisticated ingenuity.
For these six imaginative pieces, inspired by the bodies of water of the title, Smith has brought together three of the most original improvisers in a perfect and sublime balance of bold spontaneity and intuitive discipline.
Overlapping layers of intriguing harmonies and eloquent musical fragments make up dramatic "Lake Michigan." Smith's and multi-reed player Henry Threadgill's lyrical and fluid statements coalesce around drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist John Lindberg's diamantine rhythmic core. Smith's sharp bursts of note clusters evolve into long, mellow expansive phrases that evolve over Lindberg's con-arco strings and DeJohnette's rolling beats and reverberating cymbals. DeJohnette enhances the serenity of the long silent pause that follows with his gentle, percussive taps. Lindberg's progressive phrases and DeJohnette's breathtakingly agile polyrhythms engage in a stimulating dialogue that ushers in the energetic yet pensive conclusion.
Smith and Threadgill lay down languid, lines over Lindberg's furious bowing and DeJohnette's elegant rustle on the somber "Lake Huron." A bluesy passion gradually permeates the tune as Threadgill's alto wails and Smith's horn undulates over DeJohnette's and Lindberg's angular exchanges. In closing, Threadgill's quiet, wistful flute flitters over Lindberg's bow's soft whisper and DeJohnette's punctuating thuds.
Threadgill's unaccompanied and resonant bass flute opens the tranquil "Lake Erie." DeJohnette's splashing cymbals and carefully placed strikes perturb its Zen quietude. Lindberg's melancholic drone gradually takes center stage as DeJohnette's kit fades out enhancing the mystical ambience. Smith and Lindberg's evocative duet contrasts the former's contemplative; muscular growl with the latter's mercurial and melodic pizzicato. DeJohnette imbues the track with a simmering undercurrent as his restless, thunderous rumble ebbs and flows. His vivid, primal and complex solo brings things to a compelling and elegant close.
Smith's The Great Lakes Suites has been much lauded in the media and deservedly so. It is one of 2014s most consummate and superlative releases and a definite masterpiece. In a superb discography filled with memorable works this two CD album, with its informative liner notes and exquisite cover art, stands as yet another innovative apogee.
Disc One: Lake Michigan; Lake Ontario; Lake Superior.
Disc Two: Lake Huron; Lake Erie; Lake St. Claire.
Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone, flute, bass flute; John
Lindberg: double bass; Jack Dejohnette: drums.
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