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Wadada Leo Smith: Wisdom in Time & Brooklyn Duos

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Wadada Leo Smith/Gunter Baby Sommer
Wisdom in Time

John Coxon/Wadada Leo Smith
Brooklyn Duos

The duo of Wadada Leo Smith and Günter Baby Sommer is the remains of a trio pulled together by the late bassist Peter Kowald some 30 years ago. The group recorded two excellent albums — Touch the Earth and Break the Shells, later released on a single CD by FMP — before drifting and ultimately losing their founder in 2002. Wisdom in Time finds the two surviving members reconvened as a duo in 2006, a year after an appearance at the 2005 Total Music Meeting in Berlin with Barre Phillips joining them on bass. The recording, however, shows that the group's future does not depend on Kowald's chair being filled.

More than just going from trio to duo, Wisdom in Time shows Smith and Sommer stripped of smaller instruments and refined on their primary ones. While the earlier recordings included thumb piano, flute, bells and organ pipes, here Sommer sticks to percussion and Smith adds only subtle electronic effects to his trumpet and flugelhorn. Where "Break the Shells was an appropriate title for their earlier approach, "Wisdom in Time is more than just a "music through the ages improv title; there's smarts behind the playing here. "Bass-Star Hemispheres — dedicated to Kowald and at 12 minutes the longest of the nine tracks — is particularly beautiful, Smith's ostinatos slowly unfolding against a pointillistic array of drums, cymbals and gongs that, despite the breadth of tonalities, work perfectly as a single voice.

Smith met with John Coxon (half of the British duo Spring Heel Jack, who continue to have some of the most exciting ideas in new improvised music) in 2005 for a set of duets recorded almost frighteningly well by Jamie Saft. The disc begins with a startling harmonica eruption and continues through seven tracks to forge a new, ragged, remarkable blues. Along with his mouth harp, Coxon plays acoustic 12-string and electric 6-string guitar and the whole session is so tightly recorded that his every move resonates to dizzying degrees. The duo knows no fear: open space and mad repetition are allowed due course and simple gestures sometimes sound electronically manipulated for their bold, alien assurance.

Tracks and Personnel

Wisdom in Time

Tracks: A Sonic Voice Inclosed in the Wind; Tarantella Rusticana; Pure Stillness; Gassire's Lute; Woodland Trail to the Giants; Bass-Star Hemispheres (dedicated to P.K.); Rain Cycles; Old Times Roll - New Times Goal; A Silent Letter to Someone.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn, electronics; Günter Baby Sommer: drums, percussion, harmonica.

Brooklyn Duos

Tracks: Gagaku: Rain; Sacrifice: Dreams and Lovers; Colours and Waves; Urban Air Voices; Blood Moon; November Flowers; Seven Gates.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; John Coxon: harmonica, 12 string acoustic guitar, electric guitar.


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