Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Anthony Davis: piano, Ashley Walters: cello; John Lindberg: bass; Pheeroan akLaff: drums.
Wadada Leo Smith, a gritty and lyrically stunning trumpeter/composer, releases a double CD stuffed with highly-articulated music that envisions to provide historic insight and social-political conscience about the America’s National Parks.
Similar to what had happened in “The Great Lake Suites” (2014), each disc comprises three movements. However, the band Wadada enlisted for this project was an expansion of his dream-team of veterans known as The Golden Quartet (Anthony Davis on piano, John Lindberg on bass, and Pheeroan akLaff on drums), with the acquisition of the young cellist Ashley Walters, who adds a chamberesque texture and diversified colors to the organic divagations.
“New Orleans” is an incredible 20-minute piece that advances like an enigmatic dark dance, hypnotizing us with its quasi-theatrical inflections of deep dramatic weight. Lindberg and AkLaff do a superb collective job, transforming the tune into a sort of ritual that gains a lofty expressiveness through Davis’ uncanny chords and Wadada’s emphatic attacks. Later on, the cello transfigures this prior nature into a hearty moan.
In “Eileen Jackson Southern” the levels of abstraction and introspection are considerably raised. Wadada’s trumpet, frequently hitting long high-pitched notes, opposes to the cello-piano mosaics that occur in a lower register. “Yellowstone’s intro, configured by trumpet, piano, and then cello, takes its time to engage in a fantastic 4/4 groove laid down by Lindberg, a stupendous bassist who boasts a ravishing sound. Davis also deserves an ovation for his fast-moving right-hand approach while the bandleader’s bravura comes from the soul, not from the head.
The CD2 opens with the volatile 31-minute movement “The Mississippi River”, which takes us on a dark and mournful trip to a past of awes. After a while, it brings us lusty protests delivered in the form of cyclic harmonic episodes.
The shortest tune of the record, “Sequoia/Kings Canyon”, features Wadada in great interactions with his peers, especially akLaff during the final improvised section. The brilliant suite culminates with the sparse “Yosemite”, an exercise in contemporary chamber music.
Cerebrally structured and emotionally haunting, this is a literate masterpiece that will marvel not only the trumpeter’s followers but also the avant-gardists in general.
01 (cd1) – New Orleans ► 03 (cd1) – Yellowstone ► 01 (cd2) – The Mississippi River