Wadada Leo Smith At Firehouse 12

Franz A. Matzner By

Sign in to view read count
Throughout all of Smith’s efforts, feeling flows into intellect and ideas pulse with emotive force.
Wadada Leo Smith
Firehouse 12 Create Festival
New Haven, Connecticut
April 8-9, 2017

It is rare to experience the arc of a prolific artist's work while they are still active, and in the case of Wadada Leo Smith, to witness it at the simultaneous height of creative power and reflective composure. That privilege was offered by a two-day series presented at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut. The event combined seminars and two days of musical presentation covering a sweeping body of work documenting Smith's compositional prowess in multiple settings, including quartets, trios, string quartets, and a rarity, solo trumpet.

Not explicitly billed as a "retrospective," the material covered was, however, clearly drawn from the full scope of Smith's career and articulated both its diversity and continuities. The intimacy of the venue and the supporting cast of daughters, grandchildren, and friends further shaped the event into a uniquely familial affair, providing a profound and inspirational setting that felt as much a participatory, collective journey as a traditional concert.

Smith's body of work originates in one of jazz's most fertile periods of experimentation—the late 1960s—and still owes conceptual allegiance to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians' (AACM) principles of creative freedom, boundlessness, and primacy of the artist as explorer. That historical context can provide listeners a useful grounding and access point to Smith's works, but should be viewed only as that. Smith's corpus is too individual, too vast in scope, and spans too great a timeline to be anchored by anything other than his own spiritual, intellectual, and musical evolution.

One of the most unique characteristics of Smiths' work is his ability to obliterate perceived divisions between emotive, intellectual, political, and creative discourse. When searching for an irreducible or stable element within his portfolio, that may be it. Throughout all of Smith's efforts, feeling flows into intellect and ideas pulse with emotive force. The psychological repercussions of political events reverberate, shaping cultural evolution. The personal becomes a product of history, history a product of personal interactions, and the commonality of these disparate elements is revealed via Smith's music to be the humanistic impulse.

This is why so much of Smith's work is devoted to portraits of individuals. This is not, however, a simple process of dedication. The figures chosen by Smith are both inspirations and vehicles for his greater exploration of the process of cultural evolution, the thesis that individuals and their actions are both conduits for and drivers of an incessant tension between the human impulse for individual expression, spiritual growth, and human rights, and the political impulse to suppress those same desires in the name of power and control.

In Smith's worldview, the seed of progress is always found in the individual, but the individual's power is only as a participant in the larger swell of spiritual and cultural expression. The individual has a place of primacy as an actor, but must act in concert with a nexus of forces that are beyond the self. The access point to that nexus is creative exploration of both interior and exterior spaces.

Toward a Musical Language of the Spirit

In order to pursue that exploration, Smith has evolved his own compositional language. Smith is not the only creative artist to investigate novel ways to codify musical expression. Pushing the boundaries of composition and notation was a fundamental part of the AACM's pursuit. It is also the case that other artists, scholars, and musicians have long commented upon the difficulty of notating the expressive properties of jazz and blues. Their bent notes, fluid rhythms, sonic textures, and non-standard approach to instrumental voicing are notoriously resistant to codification. At a minimum, they do not easily fit within the confines of classical western musical notation that was designed for very different purposes. Certainly, others have attempted to add additional layers of notation, symbols, or even descriptive language to that standard system in an attempt to expand its vocabulary. However, for the most part such efforts continued to try to bend the music to the existing notational system. In contrast, while building on earlier innovations, Smith goes much further in developing an alternative way to compose within a musical form that resists codification.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Diane Schuur at Birdland Live Reviews Diane Schuur at Birdland
by Tyran Grillo
Published: November 20, 2017
Read Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront Live Reviews Pat Metheny at Belfast Waterfront
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor Live Reviews Crosscurrents at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: November 15, 2017
Read "Lance Canales & The Flood At Biscuits & Blues" Live Reviews Lance Canales & The Flood At Biscuits & Blues
by Walter Atkins
Published: June 27, 2017
Read "Herbie Hancock at the Gaillard Center Music Hall" Live Reviews Herbie Hancock at the Gaillard Center Music Hall
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: October 23, 2017
Read "Vossajazz 2017" Live Reviews Vossajazz 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 23, 2017
Read "Jazzahead! 2017" Live Reviews Jazzahead! 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: May 11, 2017
Read "Keystone Korner 45th Anniversary Celebration" Live Reviews Keystone Korner 45th Anniversary Celebration
by Walter Atkins
Published: August 6, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Please support out sponsor