Wadada Leo Smith: Abbey Road Quartet; Spiritual Dimensions & Spirit Catcher


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Wadada Leo Smith

Abbey Road Quartet



Wadada Leo Smith

Spiritual Dimensions



Wadada Leo Smith

Spirit Catcher



There are few players that continue to be as adventurous in maturity as they were in youth. Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's work is as uncategorizable as his sound is unique. This trio of new and reissued material demonstrates his extraordinary skill as leader, player and philosopher in three strikingly different contexts.

Smith has always been a student of sound, especially of the myriad possibilities of sound combinations. Abbey Road Quartet opens with such a moment as Pat Thomas' keyboard washes and squelchy synths vie with razor-sharp guitar preparations from John Coxon and some of Mark Sanders' perfectly-timed drumming. The quartet date is one of the newest series of Treader discs and these group offerings continue along the experimental paths forged by that label. When Smith enters on "For Johnny Dyani," his muted trumpet adds layers of context to music already dense with meaning and historical simultaneity. Transparency is ever-present, especially on the sultry but pointillistic "For Mongezi Feza," where Smith runs scales and injects shards into what sounds like Thomas playing a celeste. Even when the music heats up, there's a welcome calm to it all where so many improvised sessions turn fiery.

Transparency is also integral to the Golden Quintet's sound, their new project forming the first disc of Spiritual Dimensions. It was recorded at the 2008 Vision Festival and for a live recording, there's surprisingly little audience noise and all of the gorgeous orchestrations are presented in stunning detail. The audience sat spellbound as the pieces unfolded in an hour-and-a-quarter journey of immense power and overwhelming beauty, silence framing every gesture with its own translucent music. For the differences between the Golden Quintet and the Organic nonet, it is instructive to compare the two versions of "South Central L.A. Culture." Despite electronics, the quintet version is acoustic at its core, Vijay Iyer's fluid piano and the interlocked groove of the two drummers (Pheeroan AkLaff and Famoudou Don Moye) bolstering the tune through reggae and funk as Smith's wah-wahed trumpet interjects. On the Organic version, recorded at New Haven's Firehouse 12, the guitarists (Michael Gregory, Brandon Ross, Nels Cline, Lamar Smith) weave webs of visceral refinement around the groove, which remains purely funky. The title track's first four-and-a-half minutes sports electronic abstractions from the guitar contingent before slamming headlong into the speaker-rattling hypnogroove, typifing the band's modus operandi.

Spirit Catcher illustrates that Smith has kept to his multifarious musical vision since 1979, when he and regular collaborators Dwight Andrews, Bobby Naughton, Wes Brown and Pheeroan AkLaff recorded this disc for the Nessa label. These are epic journeys with many musical types and transcultural timbres displayed, especially when the wooden flutes soften the textures during the astonishing "Images." Most beautiful of all, though, are the soft hues and post-tonal harmonies of "The Burning of Stone," here presented in two versions. In dialogue with harp pointillisms and arpeggios, Smith's atomistic exhortations and scalar lines sum up the language he's been developing since his first recordings. All three of these releases constitute powerful testimony to the broad scope of his inclusive compositional language.

Tracks and Personnel

Abbey Road Quartet

Tracks: For Johnny Dyani; For Ashley Wales; For Mongezi Feza; For Grant Green; For Elton Dean.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; John Coxon: electric guitar; Pat Thomas: piano; synthesizer; Mark Sanders: drums.

Spiritual Dimensions

Tracks: CD1:Al-Shadhili's Litany of the Sea; Sunrise; Pacifica; Umar at the Dome of the Rock, Parts 1 & 2; Crossing Sirat; South Central L.A. Kulture. CD2: South Central L.A. Kulture; Angela Davis; Organic; Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy.

Personnel: Golden Quintet: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Vijay Ayer: piano; synth; John Lindberg: bass; Pheeroan Aklaff, Famoudou Don Moye: drums. Organic: Michael Gregory, Brandon Ross, Nels Cline; Lamar Smith: electric guitar; Okkyung Lee: cello; Skuli Spherrisson: electric bass; John Lindberg: bass; Pheeeroan Aklaff: drums.

Spirit Catcher

Tracks: Images; The Burning Of Stones; Spirit Catcher; The Burning Of Stones (First Version).

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet and flugelhorn; Dwight Andrews: tenor saxophone, clarinet and wooden flute; Wes Brown: bass and wooden flute; Bobby Naughton: vibraphone; Pheeroan ak Laff: drums and percussion; Irene Emanuel: harp (2, 4); Carol Emanauel: harp (2, 4); Ruth Emanuel: harp (2, 4).

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