Home » Jazz Articles » Wadada Leo Smith: Inspiration Incarnate

Multiple Reviews

Wadada Leo Smith: Inspiration Incarnate


Sign in to view read count
Wadada Leo Smith's The String Quartets Nos. 1-12 and The Emerald Duets are right in line with his well-established, iconoclastic means of creativity. Material composed and arranged with consummate care and attention to detail is also fodder for improvisation replete with a dignified abandon. And much like the trumpeter/composer/bandleader himself, Tum Records bestows a supreme reverence upon his efforts: as with the instrumental conversations and dialogues comprising the music within clam-shell boxes, the graphic design itself (right down to customized art for each CD sleeve) can become as all-encompassing as the prose from a variety of sources included in the booklets. These are packages that deserve to be treasured like great pieces of literature or paintings of eternal attraction: the playing times of the compact discs may vary, but the deep and abiding impact of what's on them does not.

Wadada Leo Smith
The String Quartets Nos. 1-12
Tum Records

Wadada Leo Smith may only play trumpet on two of the seven CDs in this box, but his presence as composer simultaneously challenges and highlights the dexterous technique of the RedKoral Quartet throughout. During "In the Diaspora-Earthquakes and Sunrise Missions," for instance, the foursome inhabit the piece as if in a purely improvisational approach, conjuring a dramatic atmosphere by exploring in granular detail the melodies and rhythms within the composition. And when in conjunction with additional musicians, including harpist Alison Bjorkedal and percussionist Lynn Vartan, the foursome present the aural equivalent of the visual environment of a concert wherein different colored filters on the theatrical lighting reveals the varying aspects of the stage setting. This audio mix only adds to the depth of the effect over the course of approximately six hours playing time.

Wadada Leo Smith
The Emerald Duets
Tum Records

Over the course of just less than five hours, with four different percussionists, Wadada Leo Smith presents an engrossing exhibition of the many different ways he can express himself in collaboration with others. Setting out in sharp relief just how nuanced is his playing with his creative partners—contrasting the loose-limbed, suggestive beats of Pheeroan AkLaff with the taut assertion of Jack DeJohnette—it's an in-the-moment depiction of the relationship(s) generated as two musicians play together. For instance, during "Litanies, Prayers and Meditations," the horn and the kit mirror each other's patterns, while on "Freedom Summer, The Legacy," the sounds of horn, piano and drums bounce off and around each other. The pristine audio quality of these recordings only enhances the intimacy of these exchanges, thus rendering the listening impressions indelible.

Tracks and Personnel

String Quartets Nos. 1-12

Tracks: CD 1: String Quartet No. 1 (1965-1982) Movements 1—4; String Quartet No. 2 (1969-1980) CD 2: String Quartet No. 3 "Black Church: A First World Gathering of the Spirit" (1995) Movements 1 & 2; String Quartet No. 4 (1987-2001) Movements 1. CD 3: String Quartet No. 5 "In the Diaspora -Earthquakes and Sunrise Missions" (2005); String Quartet No. 6 "Taif: Prayer in the Garden of the Hijaz" (2007); String Quartet No. 7 "Ten Thousand Ceveus Peruvianus Amemevical" (2011). CD 4: String Quartet No. 8 "Opuntia Humifusa" (2011); String Quartet No. 9 (2001-2015) Movements 1 & 2; String Quartet No. 10 "Angela Davis: Into the Morning Sunlight" (2007-2016). CD 5: String Quartet No. 11 (1975-2019) Movements 1—5. CD 6: String Quartet No. 11 (1975-2019) Movements 6—9. CD 7: String Quartet No. 12 (2016-2018) Movements 1 & 2.

Personnel: RedKoral Quartet -Shalini Vijayan: violin; Mona Tian: violin; Andrew McIntosh: viola; Ashley Walters: cello; Alison Bjorkedal: harp; Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Anthony Davis: piano; Lynn Vartan: percussion; Stuart Fox: guitar; Thomas Buckner: voice.

The Emerald Duets

Tracks: CD 1: Litanies, Prayers and Meditations. CD 2: Havana, Cuba. CD 3: Mysterious Sonic Fields; CD 4: Freedom Summer, The Legacy. CD 5: Paradise: The Gardens and Fountains.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, piano; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Andrew Cyrille: drums; Han Bennink; drums, percussion; Jack DeJohnette drums, piano, Fender Rhodes.

Post a comment



Meridian Odyssey
Earth Patterns
Szun Waves
John Yao


Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.