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Wadada Leo Smith: Aesthetic Apex

Doug Collette By

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It would be difficult to find a musician more loyal to his muse than Wadada Leo Smith. From projects with his Golden Quartet/Quintet such as America's National Parks (TUM Records, 2016) to the more expansive ensemble effort Najwa (TUM Records, 2017), then on to the stringent focus of Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM Records, 2017), it might be fair to say this eighty-year old trumpeter/bandleader/composer never found a challenge he did not relish confronting. And, most fortunately these days, he has the relative luxury of working in the nurturing environment of TUM Records, a label that treats his work with virtually the same consummate care Smith does: in the case of two simultaneous releases, Trumpet and Sacred Ceremonies, modified clam-shell boxes of contrasting flat and glossy finish enclose compact discs in separate art-adorned sleeves (with paper inserts!), while fifty-two page booklets include background on the graphics of the package as well as the music inside and out of the jazz milieu. Each of the three-CD sets has its own distinct nature while also sharing a readily discernible cohesion, the continuity of which is a direct reflection of a reciprocal dynamic that renders the man's solo trumpet work no more or less captivating than his collaboration with bassist Bill Laswell and drummer/percussionist Milford Graves.

Wadada Leo Smith
Trumpet:
TUM Records
2021

The beauty of hearing these recordings captured in a Finnish church is that Smith elicits more than just recognition of the specific sources of inspiration in the song titles, such as "Albert Ayler" or "James Baldwin." His playing is so deeply inspired and, in turn, proportionately inspiring, he will evoke in the listener remembrances of his/her own cultural milestones, including but not limited to well-known touchstones like "Rashomon." The trumpeter's extensive vocabulary on his instrument comprises the source of nuances he can coax from the horn are so that it's often only after a track or a whole disc concludes that the thought occurs there has been no sense of other accompanying instruments missing from the mix. Quite the contrary too, for each set of compositions radiates its own sense of sound: while compact disc one, with "Metallic Rainbow (For Steve McCall)," is piercing and occasionally harsh, the second with "Amina Claudine Myers" is more plaintive, with and without the use of a mute, while the third is clearly playful with a lyrical bent that belies its somewhat (deliberately?) muffled conclusion on this set's self-referential title composition.

Wadada Leo Smith with Milford Graves and Bill Laswell
Sacred Ceremonies
TUM Records
2021

This triad of CDs presents an ever more tangible progression than its counterpart, displaying in detail how the three musicians involved maximize not only their technical skills but their shared, well-honed instincts. With one disc each featuring Smith in a duo setting with Laswell, then Graves, it's possible to hear these men root out the potential of their respective instruments, specifically as it applies to personal style of playing and how that complements the others.' Then, when it comes time to perform and record as a trio—engineered by James Dellatacoma with the same expertise as the musicianship itself—each of the threesome is better prepared to anticipate the others ("Truth In Expansion"), dovetail their expressions accordingly ("Waves of Elevated Horizontal Forces" ") and maintain a synchrony ("An Epic Journey Inside the Center of Color"). As Graves, Laswell and Smith intuitively fill the spaces between sounds emanating from each other, on "The Healer's Direct Energy," for instance, hinting this album title is a purposeful and direct reference to just such interactions, mere wisps of conventional melody waft from the softest touch(es) of each musician. As a result, the readily-discernible but understated momentum the threesome generates insinuates rather than overpowers.

Tracks and Personnel

Trumpet

Tracks: Disc 1: 01 Albert Ayler / 02-06 Rashomon: Parts 1-5 / 07 Howard and Miles -A Photographic Image / 08 Metallic Rainbow (For Steve McCall) / 09 Sauna -A Healthy Journey (For Petri) Disc 2: 01 Malik al-Shabazz and the People of the Shahada / 02-06 The Great Litany -A Reflective Memory of al-Shadhili: Parts 1-5 / 07 Leroy Jenkins Violin Expressions / 08 James Baldwin -No Name in the Street; War / 09 Amina Claudine Myers Disc 3: 01 Sonic Night -Night Colors (For Reggie Workman) / 02-05 Discourses on the Sufi Path -A Remembrance of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh: Parts 1-4 / 06-09 Family -A Contemplation of Love: Parts 1-4 / 10 Trumpet

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet.

Sacred Ceremonies

Tracks: Disc 1: 01-03 Nyoto 1-3 / 04 Baby Dodds In Congo Square / 05 Celebration Rhythms / 06 Poetic Sonics / 07 The Poet: Play Ebony, Play Ivory (For Henry Dumas). Disc 2: 01 Ascending the Sacred Waterfall -A Ceremonial Practice / 02 Prince -The Blue Diamond Spirit / 03 Donald Ayler´s Rainbow Summit / 04 Tony Williams / 05 Mysterious Night / 06 Earth -A Morning Song / 07 Minnie Riperton -The Chicago Bronzeville Master Blaster. Disc 3: 01 Social Justice -A Fire for Reimagining the World / 02.Myths of Civilizations and Revolutions / 03 Truth in Expansion / 04 The Healer´s Direct Energy / 05 Waves of Elevated Horizontal Forces / 06 An Epic Journey Inside the Center of Color / 07 Ruby Red Largo -A Sonnet.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Bill Laswell: bass; Milford Graves: drums, percussion.

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