Wadada Leo Smith — The Great Lakes Suites
(TUM Records 041, 2014, 2CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2014-12-11
Wadada Leo Smith has been on a roll lately, producing prominent works, mainly sprawling thematic compositions like Ten Freedom Summers, and The Great Lakes Suites is a formidable addition to his body of work. Yes, that's "Suites" — plural — as each of the lakes gets its own suite. He's joined in the endeavor by Henry Threadgill (saxes, flutes), Jack DeJohnette (drums), and John Lindberg (bass). Threadgill and DeJohnette need no introduction, but while Lindberg's name is less recognized, his history is testament to his worthiness for inclusion in this company, as it includes being a co-founder of the String Trio of New York and working with Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, and many others. With players of this caliber, even mediocre compositions (or free improvisation) would probably sound great, but Smith's writing is consistently interesting, with themes, countermelodies, and motifs that provide the perfect glue to hold it all together like signposts along the wandering journeys taken in the solos. The six pieces (he includes the smaller Lake St. Clair in addition to the five Great Lakes proper) stretch out over 90 minutes, and are probably best taken in one at a time, but can be rewarding listening in any increment. All in all, my favorite is probably "Lake Ontario," the shortest suite at 9:19, but there are wonderful moments in all the lakes. Threadgill's bass flute that opens "Lake Erie" is marvellous, and Lindberg's use of the bow in various places throughout the suites is very effective. The Great Lakes Suites is definitely one of the year's highlights in jazz.
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more
Neil Peart RIP – One of rock music's defining drummers has died at the age of 67. Neil Peart's work with Rush provided one of the templates for percussion in rock, and he certainly ranks in the top ten most influential drummers of the 20th Century. Peart retired from playing in 2015 due to health issues, and succumbed to brain cancer on January 7, 2020. » Read more
Joel Vandroogenbroeck RIP – Word has reached us of the death of Joel Vandroogenbroeck, best known as one of the founders of Brainticket, He also recorded electronic music under a variety of names. He was born August 25th, 1938 in Brussels, Belgium and died December 23, 2019 in Arlesheim, Switzerland, aged 81. » Read more