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Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites

Robert Bush By

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Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is on something of a recording roll lately, with The Great Lakes Suites coming hot on the heels of 2013's Occupy The World, and 2012's Ten Freedom Summers on the TUM and Cuneiform labels, respectively.

To these ears, The Great Lakes Suites is the prize among prizes. Drum icon Jack DeJohnette is back with Smith, and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill joins long-time bass associate John Lindberg for a thrilling program of extended compositions featuring each player in generous detail.

Right off the bat, "Lake Michigan" finds DeJohnette stirring an explosive pot—interacting in precise alchemy with Lindberg's roaring arco; throughout this album they are a potent team that transcend the standard concept of "rhythm section" exponentially. Smith and Threadgill wind a tight wrap around the serpentine melody, and Threadgill's sense of timbre, texture, and non-linear development demonstrate a singular voice.

Not since Miles Davis and Lester Bowie has a trumpeter done more with one note than Smith. A master of tone manipulation, Smith courses from bray to shriek to smear to keening clarion call with deep nuance, especially evident on the Braxton-esque "Lake Ontario," where the trumpet solo slides into a deep dialog between drums and bass before Threadgill, over minimal accompaniment commands the sonics with the elliptical phrasing of pure intention.

Lindberg's strummed double-stops lay a bed of sound that the horns punctuate with irregular long-tones over vituperative drums in "Lake Superior," a showcase for Smith's swarming, buzzing multiphonics. As Lindberg and DeJohnette lock hands for a dogged plow through rhythmic minefields, Threadgill darts and twists with deep surety.

Many years of playing together have solidified the chemistry of Smith and Lindberg, and their close communication on the intro to "Lake Huron" sets a dramatic stage for Threadgill's architecturally sound essay which survives the relentless onslaught of Dejohnette's traps fully intact.

Each musician gets long features alone, and in duo tandems, like the alto-flute and drum conversation that opens "Lake Erie," a beautifully episodic piece where themes unfold like an orchid's petals. The borders between written melodies, instrumental features and configurations, and improvised solos are so organically constructed as to blur the distinctions altogether.

This is perfectly balanced music with heavy input between four improvising and interpretive masters—no one dominates but each one consistently soars. If you're new to Smith's music, The Great Lakes Suites is a perfect place to start.

Track Listing: Disc One: Lake Michigan; Lake Ontario; Lake Superior. Disc Two: Lake Huron; Lake Erie; Lake St. Claire.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone, flute, bass flute; John Lindberg: double bass; Jack Dejohnette: drums.

Title: The Great Lakes Suites | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: TUM Records

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