All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

9

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.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Monk and His Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Cafe

Monk and His Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Cafe

Wadada Leo Smith
Solo: Reflections and...

Najwa

Najwa

Wadada Leo Smith
Najwa

Dred Scott: 1857

Dred Scott: 1857

Wadada Leo Smith
Ten Freedom Summers

South Central L.A. Kulture

South Central L.A. Kulture

Wadada Leo Smith
Spiritual Dimensions

CD/LP/Track Review
Best of / Year End
Multiple Reviews
Best of / Year End
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Araminta

Araminta

Sunnyside Records
2017

buy
Najwa

Najwa

TUM Records
2017

buy
Ocean of Storms

Ocean of Storms

Self Produced
2017

buy
America’s National Parks

America’s National...

Cuneiform Records
2016

buy
America's National Parks

America's National...

Cuneiform Records
2016

buy

Related Articles

Read Detroit Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Detroit Jazz Festival 2018
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 19, 2018
Read Beethoven, Barber and Vivaldi at The Jazz Corner Live Reviews
Beethoven, Barber and Vivaldi at The Jazz Corner
by Martin McFie
Published: September 18, 2018
Read Bryan Ferry at the Macedonian Philharmonic Hall, Macedonia 2018 Live Reviews
Bryan Ferry at the Macedonian Philharmonic Hall, Macedonia...
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: September 16, 2018
Read Live From Birmingham: Dinosaur, Meatraffle, Hollywood Vampires, Black Asteroids & Paul Lamb Live Reviews
Live From Birmingham: Dinosaur, Meatraffle, Hollywood...
by Martin Longley
Published: September 16, 2018
Read Binker & Moses At London's Jazz Cafe Live Reviews
Binker & Moses At London's Jazz Cafe
by Chris May
Published: September 15, 2018
Read 12 Points 2018 Live Reviews
12 Points 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 14, 2018
Read "Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2" Live Reviews Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2
by James Fleming
Published: August 18, 2018
Read "Boston Roundup: Larry Carlton, Brit Floyd, and Doyle Bramhall" Live Reviews Boston Roundup: Larry Carlton, Brit Floyd, and Doyle...
by Dave Dorkin
Published: December 20, 2017
Read "Art Lillard's Heavenly Big Band at the New York City Baha’i Center" Live Reviews Art Lillard's Heavenly Big Band at the New York City...
by Tyran Grillo
Published: October 24, 2017
Read "AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia" Live Reviews AJAZZGO Festival in Cali, Colombia
by Mark Holston
Published: October 13, 2017