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Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet: The Year of the Elephant

Dan McClenaghan By

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Trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith put out a CD entitled Yo Miles! a couple of years back, so his debt to the Dark Prince, Miles Davis, is no secret. On this, The Year of the Elephant, his second CD with his Golden Quartet, Mile's influence, especially the sound of the late sixties through late seventies, pervades. In a pared down way. Miles at that time was expanding his pallet. Gutars, bass clarinet, two drummers, sitars, tablas. Smith has simplified things: Trumpet/bass/piano/drum.

Smith's horn work is very Miles-like,the wounded, open horn cry, the plaintive and introspective mute work, the judicious use of silence.

"Al-Madinah", the opener, brings, compositionally, Bitches Brew, to mind, without the extraneous clutter. Jack DeJohnnette, who played on that classic album is here, churning, pulling the sounds forward.

The closer, is an obvious Miles nod, the fifteen minute-plus "Miles Star in 3 Parts".

But there is more. The quartet—these are old pros—brings a progression to what was going on in those late seventies recordings; indeed, each member brings so much to the proceedings, the level of musicality is so high...

Pianist Anthony Davis is a writer of operas when he's not working with The Golden Quartet, and the classical bent he brings in adds a lusterous polish to the sound. On "The Zamzam Well a Stream of Pure Light" (and how that for a Mingusonian title), probably the least Milesian tunes on the CD has an interlude with Davis way up high on the right hand side of the keyboard, plucking little pinpoints of starlight out of the low end dark heartbeats of Malachi Favors Maghostut's bass. That tune the highlight of an extraordinary set of songs.

This one will show up on the year end top ten lists, near the top.

Track Listing: Al-Madinah, Piru, The Zamzam Well a Stream of Pure Light, Kangaroo's Hollow, The Year of the Elephant, Miles Star in Thre Parts

Personnel: Malachi Favors Maghostut, bass; Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet, flegelhorn; Jack DeJohnette, drums, synthesizer; Anthony Davis, piano, synthesizer

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

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