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Wadada Leo Smith: Lake Biwa and Snakish

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Wadada Leo Smith
Lake Biwa
Tzadik
2004


Wadada Leo Smith
Snakish
Leo
2005


The only thing that's really predictable about trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is that, whatever he takes on, he'll pull it off. From the more traditional Golden Quartet to his duos with Anthony Braxton, to Rasta and Sufi inflections to the Miles Davis reperatory group he co-leads with Henry Kaiser, Smith's projects are never half-realized.



No small thanks are due to Tzadik for letting Smith the composer also be realized. Lake Biwa is Smith's sixth disc for the label's "Composer Series" and may be the most impressive of the lot. His Silver Orchestra is not just impressive in its lineup (including Erik Friedlander on cello, Marc Ribot on guitar, John Zorn on sax, Anthony Coleman on piano and Susie Ibarra on percussion, among others), but in the way he uses them. Over four pieces ranging from 10 to 25 minutes, the ensemble truly is an orchestra. When called upon to step forward, the voices of Ribot and Zorn especially are unmistakable. But the rest of the time, the group breathes together like an orchestra rather than a session group reading charts. The compositions themselves are both serious and exciting and violinist Jennifer Choi (a regular performer of Zorn's compositions) especially shines.



Snakish is a very different affair, following a couple of interests (poetry, electronics, spiritual belief) Smith has pursued in the past. With Miroslav Tadic's remarkable guitar playing and Mark Nauseef's inventive drumming, it's a subdued, unusual recording, challenging and satisfying. Only two of the 14 tracks break the five-minute mark, but the feeling isn't so much of short sketches as drifting in and out, a suite with moments of silence. Nothing, not even the vocals or electronics, dominate - it's almost like aural incense, filling the room without demanding attention. It's a strange mix of elements, but ultimately one of the most satisfying in Smith's catalogue.


Tracks and Personnel

Lake Biwa

Tracks: Lake Biwa; A Fullmoon Purewater Gold; Sanai's Enclosed Garden Of the Truth; Diamondback Serpent In A House Full of Water and Still Rising; Africana World.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: Trumpet; Wes Brown: Bass; Jennifer Choi: Violin; Anthony Coleman: Piano; Erik Friedlander: Cello; Susie Ibarra: Drums; John Lindberg: Bass; Marc Ribot: Guitar; Marcus Rojas: Tuba; Jamie Saft: Piano; Craig Taborn: Piano; John Zorn: Alto Sax; Gerald Cleaver: Drums; Yuko Fujiyama: Piano; Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng: Drums.

Snakish

Tracks:

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith; trumpet; Walter Quintus: computer & processing; Katya Quintus: voice; Miroslav Tadic: classical & baritone guitar; and Mark Nauseef: percussion & live electronics.

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