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Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Wadada Leo Smith

Ten Freedom Summers

Cuneiform Records


Music—protest songs or extended compositions—have long been to be an integral part of human rights struggles. Suffice to mention such canonical musical statements as drummer Max Roach's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite (Candid, 1960) and Lift Every Voice and Sing (Atlantic, 1971), saxophonist John Coltrane's "Alabama" from Live at Birdland (Impulse!, 1963) or bassist Charles Mingus' "Meditations on Integration (or for a Pair of Wire-Cutters)" and "Fables Of Faubus," both from The Great Concert of Charles Mingus (Prestige, 1964) to understand the impact of the American Civil Rights movements on modern jazz. Still, such compositions have become less numerous in recent times, with the idea of "art for art's sake."

Wadada Leo Smith's tribute to the American Civil Rights movement, a collection of 19 compositions (out of 21 he composed) encompassing four and a half hours over four discs, redefines music—whether we call it jazz or contemporary music—as art with a social role, that promotes freedom and inspires resistance. This work is an expression of his formative, personal experiences, historical events that shaped and impacted on his consciousness, politics, morality and art; not only as an Afro-American who had experienced segregation in his youth in Mississippi, but one who does so again now as a Muslim. Smith says it clearly in the liner notes—this work is not for casual listening, it demands attention and commitment.

Ten Freedom Summers begins with the story of the slave Dred Scott who who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom in 1857, and ends with a mourning piece dedicated to the September 11, 2001 attacks on Manhattan, but the focus is on the period between 1954 and 1964, when the Civil Rights Act outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women. The compositions are divided into three sections—"Defining Moments in America," "What is Democracy?" and "Freedom Summers"—but pieces from each book stand independently despite the thematic threads. All pieces represent a defining historic moment, delve into their lasting psychological and emotional impacts, and reconstruct these realities as music.

The compositions are performed by Smith's Golden Quartet—pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg and drummer Pheeron akLaff, all of who have played with Smith since the 1970s—expanded to a fourpiece with drummer Susie Ibarra and the nine-members Southwest Chamber Music ensemble, conducted by Jeff von der Schmidt. The use of the contemporary ensemble enables Smith to expand the palette of sounds, integrating "third stream" concepts and creating music that defies categorization.

The music is majestic, even without realizing its historical context and Smith's social background. Both outfits play with urgency, sensitivity and passion. The Golden Quartet/Quintet pieces are more energetic, with impressive improvised segments and solos by all the members, but the Southwest Chamber Music's intricate, impressionistic pieces are no less dramatic and powerful. First violinist Shalini Vijayan is a remarkable soloist. Both outfits complete Smith's expansive vision, and bring almost mythical proportions to the historical events with their arresting interpretations.

Smith's own playing on the trumpet is always inspiring. His sound throughout this cycle is intense and raw, imaginative and poetic, sensitive and passionate. His recurring mourning trumpet sounds on "September 11th, 2001: A Memorial" are among the highlights. Compact statements, informed by blues and gospel legacies, full of emotion and spirituality, and performed brilliantly.

Ten Freedom Summers is an artistic peak in Smith's already impressive musical career. It is also a milestone statement about the societal role of an artist and the arts.

CD1: Dred Scott, 1857; Malik Al Shabazz and the People of the Shahada; Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless; Thurgood Marshall and Brown Vs. Board of Education: A Dream of Equal Education, 1954; John F. Kennedy's New Frontier And The Space Age, 1960. CD2: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days; Black Church; Freedom Summer: Voter Registration, Acts Of Compassion and Empowerment, 1964; Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. CD3: The Freedom Riders Ride; Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice of a Thousand Years' Journey for Liberty and Justice; The D.C. Wall: A War Memorial for All Times; Buzzsaw: The Myth of a Free Press; The Little Rock Nine: A Force for Desegregation in Education, 1957. CD4: America, Pts. 1, 2 & 3; September 11th, 2001: A Memorial; Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, 1964; Democracy; Martin Luther King, Jr.: Memphis, The Prophecy.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: composer, trumpet; Anthony Davis: piano; John Lindberg: bass; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Susie Ibarra: drums; Alison Bjorkedal: harp; Jim Foschia: clarinet; Lorenz Gamma: violin; Peter Jacobson: cello; Larry Kaplan: flute; Jan Karlin: viola; Tom Peters: bass; Lynn Vartan: percussion; Shalini Vijayan: violin.

Track Listing: CD 1: Dred Scott: 1857 [Golden Quartet]; Malik Al Shabazz and The People of the Shahada [Golden Quartet]; Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless [Golden Quartet and Southwest Chamber Music]; Thurgood Marshall and Brown vs. Board of Education: A Dream of Equal Education, 1954 [Golden Quartet]; John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and the Space Age, 1960 [Southwest Chamber Music]. CD 2: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days [Golden Quartet]; Black Church [Southwest Chamber Ensemble]; Freedom Summer: Voter Registration, Acts of Compassion and Empowerment, 1964 [Golden Quartet]; Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [Southwest Chamber Music & wadada Leo Smith]. CD 3: The Freedom Riders Ride [Golden Quartet]; Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice of a Thousand Years Journey for Liberty and Justice [Southwest Chamber Music]; The D. C. Wall: A War Memorial for All Times [Golden Quartet]; Buzzsaw: The Myth of a Free Press [Golden Quartet]; The Little Rock Nine: A Force of Desegregation In Education, 1957 [Golden Quartet & Southwest Chamber Music]. CD 4: America Parts 1 & 2 [Golden Quartet]; September 11th, 2001: A Memorial [Golden Quartet]; Fannie Lou Hamer and The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, 1964 [Golden Quartet]; Democracy [Golden Quartet]; Martin Luther King, Jr.: Memphis, The Prophecy [Southwest Chamber Music & Golden Quartet].

Personnel: Golden Quartet/Quinter: Anthony Davis: piano; Pheeron akLaff: drums (6, 13, 15); Susie Ibarra: drums (3, 10, 12, 14); John Lindberg: bass; Wadada Leo . Smith: trumpet. Southwest Chamber Music: Alison Bjorkedal: harp; Jim Foschia: clarinet; Lorenz Gamma: violin; Peter Jacobson: cello; Larry Kaplan: flute; Jan Karlin: viola; Tom Peters: bass; Lynn Vartan: percussion; Shalini Vijayan: violin; Jeff von der Schmidt: conductor.

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records | Style: Modern Jazz

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