Exposé Online banner

Wadada Leo Smith — America's National Parks
(Cuneiform Rune 430/431, 2016, 2CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2017-01-27

America's National Parks Cover art

A couple of years ago I reviewed Wadada Leo Smith’s Great Lakes Suites, and I noted that he was on a roll, producing numerous large-scale projects. That roll has continued — discogs.com lists 12 releases over the years 2014-16, two of which were double CD sets, on nearly as many different record labels (Cuneiform, RareNoise, Tzadik, ECM, and TUM among them). For his newest Cuneiform release, his theme is a loose interpretation of US National Parks: Yellowstone, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and Yosemite are the actual National Parks; other “parks” include “New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718,” “Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920-2002: A Literary National Park,” and “The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the River – a National Memorial Park c. 5000 BC.” The musicians on board include some familiar names. Bassist John Lindberg is here, and pianist Anthony Davis; the drummer is free jazz legend Pheeroan akLaff, and Ashley Walters adds a new dimension with her cello. The expanded instrumentation provides Smith with a broader range of tone colors to take advantage of. The cello in particular often acts as a counterbalance to the trumpet, and Walters’ mastery of extended playing techniques is well utilized. “The Mississippi River” has a section where Lindberg’s plucked bass and Walters’ eerie cello play off each other, and such moments are spread across the 90+ minutes of this suite — all of the possible combinations of two and three instruments are presented, as well as solo spots. The virtues of this ensemble are many. I particularly like the way akLaff can play freely without tripping up the group when they’re playing together. He has a way of swinging that is idiosyncratic but works in this context. Davis is great at the piano as well, with a comparable way of mixing free playing with Smith’s themes, so it almost seems that the coordinated sections just coalesced out of telepathy. Once again, Wadada Leo Smith has produced a monumental work of contemporary jazz, and while a listener might not always want to commit to the full set in a sitting, each of the pieces is a considerable achievement on its own, proving that jazz need not be augmented by electronics to be valid in today’s world.

Filed under: New releases, 2016 releases

Related artist(s): Wadada Leo Smith

Latest news

Seaprog 2018 Artist Announcements Raise Festival's Profile – Seattle's Seaprog festival has been going since 2013, and the 2018 edition features a slate of artists that's sure to bring more attention to the event. Cheer-Accident, Bubblemath, and Free Salamander Exhibit are in the first round announcement of performers. In keeping with their tradition of focusing on regional artists, they will also present a number of artists from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. [Edit: Just added: Inner Ear Brigade] » Read more

Adelbert von Deyen RIP – Word reaches us that German electronic musician Adelbert von Deyen has died. His recorded legacy reaches back to 1978, when Sky Records released Sternzeit. Von Deyen, who was born October 25, 1953 in Süderbrarup, was also known as a painter and graphic artist. » Read more

Didier Lockwood RIP – Word reaches us today of the death of one of France's great jazz musicians, violinist Didier Lockwood. His playing bridged many worlds, from traditional jazz to fusion to progressive rock, and his talent can be heard on recordings by Magma, Clearlight, Pierre Moerlen's Gong, and many more. Lockwood was 62. » Read more

10 Years of Fruits de Mer - The Incomplete Angler – Those of you who are faithful followers of Exposé will know that we have been promoting Fruits de Mer and its side labels and releases from nearly its first year. Now music journalist and author Dave Thompson has written a book chronicling the past ten years as a celebration of this milestone. » Read more

Tom Rapp RIP – Singer / songwriter Tom Rapp, best known with the band Pearls Before Swine, passed away on February 12, at the age of 70, after a battle with cancer. » Read more

Previously in Exposé...

Pinnacle - Meld – Heck, any band that gives thanks to "the spectacular Eliza Dushku for inspiration" deserves the benefit of the doubt, don't they? This American three-piece treads some familiar ground — the...  (2008) » Read more

Listen & discover

Print issues