Strangely, given their similar ages and trajectories, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith
and percussionist Andrew Cyrille
have worked together infrequently. But when they have, the results have been spectacular. In 2018, Smith and Cyrille collaborated with guitarist Bill Frisell
on the well received Lebroda
for ECM. Lebroda
was produced by Sun Chung, who has since set up his own label, Red Hook, from whence comes Two Centuries
. On it, Chung has brought Smith and Cyrille together again, this time with electronicist Qasim Naqvi
. It is a reunion of sorts, because Naqvi studied with Cyrille in the 1990s and with Smith a decade later.
Once more, the results are spectacularmostly, quietly so.
Naqvi is credited with composing all the tracks on the album, but, though he provided the starting points for the trio's improvisations, he does not claim to be the leader. Smith and Cyrille are repositories of jazz wisdom going back to the 1960s: Cyrille joined the Cecil Taylor
Unit in 1965, when Smith was already a member of Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and working with Anthony Braxton
. A relative whippersnapper like Naqvi does not "lead" Smith and Cyrille.
Chung, likewise, probably followed the example of the recently passed Creed Taylor
, who, asked about "producing" John Coltrane
's Africa / Brass
(Impulse! 1961), replied: "You don't produce Coltrane. I just made sure the lights were on and that he and Rudy [Van Gelder] had what they needed."
Whatever he did, or did not do, Chung did a great job. The musicians spent three consecutive days in a Brooklyn studio in May 2021, producing a perfect little cosmos of spacious and intimately interactive music, mostly abstract but unfailingly lyrical: Cyrille can come on like Thor with a bone to pick when required but he can also be gentle and melodic (as he was on Lebroda
). In the press release, Naqvi writes that some of the tunes were precomposed, such as that for the opener, "For D.F.," a shout-out to Daniella Frazier, who captured the murder of George Floyd on her phone. Smith's work on "For D.F.," makes a chilling start to the album, but most of what follows is gorgeous, sometimes spry, sometimes contemplative. Two Centuries
is solace for the soul.
For D.F.; The Curve; Spiritual Is 150; Organum; Tympanic; Bypass Decay; Palaver; Sadden Upbeat; Wraith; Halide; Orion Arm.
Qasim Naqvi: modular and Minimoog synthesisers, drums (6, 8).
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