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Wadada Leo Smith: I'm A Dreamer

John Sharpe By

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Capturing Ten Freedom Summers on record

AAJ: I have a question about the recording of Ten Freedom Summers. You have two drummers: Pheeroan AkLaff and Susie Ibarra. Sometimes one, sometimes the other and sometimes both. How did you make the choice?

WLS: Well the truth is that the choice was a forced choice. Pheeroan akLaff, like he does from time to time, like he did this time as well—he was supposed to be here [in London]—he sometimes gets his dates crossed. And that performance he got his dates crossed and before we knew it, he's going to be in Japan and we are going to be in L.A. So I had to get somebody else, so I got Susie. Susie played the premiere, all three nights, and she did such a great job. Pheeroan came back from Japan two days later and he already knows the music. So I had Susie and Pheeroan, and I think that each of them adds something different to the quality of the music and collectively they add a new niche. I had tried before with two drummers in the Golden Quartet, with Don Moye and Pheeroan.

AAJ: I saw that performance at the Vision Festival, which was later released as the first disc on Spiritual Reflections (Cuneiform, 2010).

WLS: And that worked well. But economically sometimes one extra person can knock the deal out. But I liked to have both of them on the recording and do individual pieces and collective pieces. Even in the same concept that 'Trane [John Coltrane] talked about—two drummers and they work well together—they expand the rhythmic platform and there are multiple corners at which things can be aimed at musically while you are playing. That's the biggest advantage of having eight components moving together. That recording was a miracle. Literally a miracle. The Chamber Ensemble, they took up the first two days of the recording. I wanted to definitely record them first, but I had no idea they would take up all of the time. So we did the first day just all them and the Golden Quartet, and the second day we did the other pieces with them. So we ended up on our portion with the Quartet after eight o'clock in the evening. We cleared the stage. We recorded in a nice large building. We got the stage set up again. We had to move the drums, because when we started testing there was too much bleed through. So we spent another hour or two trying to get that sorted. It was ten o'clock at night. We had been in there since nine o'clock that morning. So we tried a take. We would go and listen a little bit, and we couldn't hear the bass. Too much drums on this side or that side. So I take out my cell phone to see if we can find another studio. Because this is not a studio, this is just a performance hall, because we wanted to do it in there for the ambience of the sound. Ten o'clock at night, I can't find a studio. So we rearrange the stuff again and we do another take, and it's the same thing. It's distorted, there's stuff bleeding through everything. Now it's about eleven o'clock at night. I say, let's go to the hotel and we'll come back tomorrow morning at nine. I feel in my heart we are going to get this music but I couldn't guarantee you, because we don't have a single piece for the Golden Quartet recorded yet. Golden Quartet has thirteen pieces on that recording. What am I going to do? We go in, we have our food and go to bed. We get in there at nine o'clock. The guy has been there since seven or eight fixing up stuff. We do the first take. We listen to a little bit of it, just a tiny bit like maybe three minutes. Spot check it in a couple of places. It sounds fairly good, so we say we are going to go ahead. The first piece we recorded was "Dred Scott." So we've got a version now that maybe good. So from there on out we take this piece, record it. I ask on the microphone: "Did you get it?" He says yes. So we go onto the next piece. No listening. Did you get it? Yes. All of the other pieces were recorded without listening to them. I didn't know what we had or if we had it. But thank God the engineer did get it. Now that went on until twelve o'clock that night. We had one break. The last piece that was recorded on Ten Freedom Summers that night was "Rosa Parks." Listen to "Rosa Parks." We had to do two takes because everybody was literally tired and I had to be a coach, like a football coach, and I used that metaphor. I said listen guys, we are on the goal line. All we've got to do is have enough energy to fall across the line. And boom, we hit down. And we played "Rosa Parks" and it is one of the highlights on the record.

AAJ: Absolutely.

WLS: We've recorded that melody before, and that melody is just so unusual, the way that we played it. To do that at mid-night after fifteen hours! All that music is strong. So I declare that as a miracle. It was two months later that I found out that the engineer got it.

AAJ: That long?

WLS: Because I had to go away to perform. When I came back I got the files and I started to mix them. And that was the first time I heard it was there. It took eleven days to edit and seven days to mix it. And to master it took eight days. And the sound is fantastic. I was stunned.

AAJ: Especially for a big ensemble.

WLS: You can hear everything on it. But that is a miracle. We were blessed for that to come out.

AAJ: You must have been relieved when you found it had all been captured so well.

WLS: I was. I knew we had it.

AAJ: On the recording there is about four and a half hours of music, but when you perform the piece live it's billed as longer...

WLS: What happened is that on the recording we only recorded nineteen pieces. It was originally twenty one pieces. Two pieces we left off and now we have added four pieces to it. So now it should be eight, eight, eight [in each of the three collections comprising the entire work].


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