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Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet: The Year Of The Elephant

Mark Corroto By

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The aptly named Golden Quartet is either dubbed for the golden years of these four jazzmen, or perhaps it is the simple musical lines they have spun into an alloy of precious sound.

The quartet’s impressive resume is beyond doubt. Wadada Leo Smith was a member of Chicago’s AACM and bands of Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins. Malachi Favors likewise played a part in the AACM before his days in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Pianist Anthony Davis has established himself as a modern composer, these days writing operas. Finally drummer Jack DeJohnette gained fame with Miles Davis’ electric bands before his own career and now lengthy stay with Keith Jarrett’s standard’s trio.

Assembled for the self-titled Golden Quartet (Tzadik 2000), Smith’s band is anything but a ‘supergroup.’ The critically acclaimed 2000 session is now followed by what should be a popular success. Where their previous effort opted for intellectual pursuits, The Year Of The Elephant strives to be people music (music of the people). Like Smith’s 1998 Yo, Miles! (Shanachie) the starting point here is Miles Davis.

Miles inspires the opening and closing tracks. “Al-Madinah” shares that electric vamp that permeated everything Miles seemed to do in the late-sixties and early 1970s and the closer “Miles Star In 3 Parts” begins with inspiration from the second great quintet only to amble (in the 14-minute track) into a kind of folk music. Smith’s trumpet has that Miles’ brittle and very human sound going here. You can savor the whisper, the growl and the muted fragments. Backed by these musicians, Smith looses the silly looseness that was Yo, Miles! for a proper story telling session.

Bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Jack DeJohnette sound as if they have been playing together for years. Their exchange on the title track with its swift time change is vitally organic. As is Davis’ piano duo with Smith on “Kangaroo’s Hollow.” The two musicians interchange the lead throughout, playing off the last thought and urging the next.

This music belongs not in the jazz section, but the folk bin. The Golden Quartet draws from a shared modern experience of sound, seamlessly joining jazz with the shared musical experiences of these fine players.


Track Listing: Al-Madinah; Piru; The Zamzam Well A Stream Of A Pure Light; Kangaroo

Personnel: Malachi Favors Maghostut

Title: The Year Of The Elephant | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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