Wadada Leo Smith — Najwa
(TUM Records 049, 2017, CD)
Wadada Leo Smith — Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk
(TUM Records 053, 2017, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2018-01-22
These two recent releases by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith present very different sides to this many-faceted artist. Najwa is a group outing with eight musicians; Solo is, as the title implies, a one-man affair. Both are explicitly dedicated to jazz greats, with tracks on Najwa inspired by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Billie Holliday, while Solo is subtitled Reflections and Meditations on Monk. The group album starts with “Ornette Coleman's Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms - A Resonance Change in the Millennium” (all of the pieces have similarly worded titles except the title track), and we hear Smith’s trumpet accompanied by free-roaming drums (Pheeroan akLaff), percussion (Adam Rudolph), and electric bass (Bill Laswell), along with four guitarists (Michael Gregory Jackson, Henry Kaiser, Brandon Ross, and Lamar Smith). There’s a brief statement of theme, and then they’re off running. The guitarists do an amazing job of staying out of each other’s ways, and most of the time you’d be hard pressed to pick out notes from more than two. You’ll hear indistinct noises mixed in the background which likely originate from guitars, occasional sparse chording, and solo lines of varying degrees of distortion and sonic processing. After about seven minutes, the bottom falls out and we’re left floating in space with sustained chords drifting in and out of focus to back a great solo from the trumpet, tossing off melodic fragments into the ether. When a guitar solos, it is far from conventional, tending to the abstract and impressionistic rather than standard scales and tones from either jazz or rock. Laswell’s fretless bass is also heavily processed, with occasional melodic lines in higher registers. The other long tracks are similarly creative, with the Billie Holiday tribute (“The Empress, Lady Day - In a Rainbow Garden, with Yellow-Gold Hot Springs, Surrounded by Exotic Plants and Flowers”) finishing off the set on a contemplative note, infused with an abstraction of the blues without actually sounding like a blues tune.
Solo presents a daunting listening experience: nearly an hour of unaccompanied trumpet. The inclusion of some well-known Thelonious Monk tunes is an anchor to keep the set from drifting aimlessly. “Ruby, My Dear,” “Reflections,” “Crepuscule with Nellie,” and “‘Round Midnight” are interpreted by a master, taken far outside the bebop context in which they first appeared. Smith’s four original tunes offer up similar feelings and themes, with titles like “Monk and His Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Cafe.” Whether playing with open bell or with a mute, Smith sticks to the melodic side of his instrument, never venturing into avant noise-making. These are thoughtful meditations on Monk’s ideas, not excuses to show off superhuman technique or unconventional sounds. This is not his first recording to be a one-man show, but it is the first to feature only trumpet, as his previous solo ventures involved various other instruments (flugelhorns, flutes, marimbas, gongs, and so on) as well. Certainly solo trumpet music will not be to everyone’s taste, but Smith has an appealing tone and a beautiful melodic sense that rewards careful listening.
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more
Chicago-Based Surabhi Ensemble Tours the World in January – Surabhi Ensemble was formed more than a decade ago in Chicago with the aim of bringing together musicians from varying traditions to make music. Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays veena, assembled a cast that includes Arabic oud, Spanish guitar, and percussion from Africa and India. This month, the group will be sharing their sounds with concert-goers in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. » Read more
Providence - There Once Was a Night of "Choko-muro" the Paradise – Some may recall the first, very highly regarded Providence CD And I'll Recite an Old Myth... from around 1990. At that point they had already released a couple cassettes, two videos, and appeared on... (1996) » Read more