Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012)

The music on this momentous album reflects the gravity of its subject matter, which is tracking the triumphs and tragedies of the American civil rights movement through music. Although many other artists have tackled this theme with extraordinary results like Max Roach's We Insist! and Sonny Rollins' Freedom Suite, Smith writes and performs his music through the lens of time allowing him to make connections, draw conclusions and take his personal experience into account while composing this epic statement. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's was tied into other momentous events of the time like the Cold War, space race and the war on poverty. But while Smith places his music in context of broader American history, it is the struggle for black equality and freedom that is at the forefront of this music. Evoking the names of Emmit Till, Medgar Evers and the Little Rock Nine, the music reflects the price that had to be paid by those courageous enough to press for progress. Moving begone that historical era and evoking the horror of the September 11 attacks, along with a three part suite called "America" and the composition "Democracy," Smith brings the music back full circle to remind us that the promise of America did not end with the Civil Rights Act and that the vow of "freedom and justice for all" is an ongoing process that must continue if America is to live up to it's lofty ideals. It is interesting that Smith would choose to combine works for his Golden Quintet with those written for the Southwest Chamber Ensemble, combining the music of African-Americans with that of European Americans to show us through music that the lessons of the civil rights era are freedom and equal opportunity for all with all people working together for a greater good. This is an important and thoughtfully done project that shows the beauty and the horror of a particular time in American history, when the very nature of its people were in flux, and Smith shows great courage and fortitude in seeing this project to fruition. Ten Freedom Summers -

Send comments to Tim.