Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Najwa (TUM Records, 2017)

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith is no stranger to the electric guitar, having joined forces with Henry Kaiser to make two stellar electric Miles Davis styled jazz fusion albums under the name Yo Miles! This, however, is an album of entirely original compositions in the company of Kaiser, Michael Gregory Jackson, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith on guitar, Bill Laswell on electric bass, Pheeroan akLaff on drums and Adam Rudolph on percussion. They made the music by recording a session and followed up by re-recording some of the music, which Laswell and Smith edited and remixed it to further strengthen the overall sound of the group. There is never a danger of having too many cooks, because the band is a powerhouse unit and they make a wonderfully unique sound, beginning with "Ornette Coleman's Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms: A Resonance Change In The Millennium" which echoes the music of Coleman's Prime Time bands and especially the early electric music he made with James "Blood" Ulmer on guitar, creating extraordinary albums like Dancing in Your Head and Body Meta, recorded in 1976. Thrashing drums and percussion push the music relentlessly forward as the guitars smear neon light and Smith ignites the music with sparks of flinty trumpet. To my knowledge John Coltrane never recorded with an electric guitarist but his massive influence was felt far and wide and it imbues "Ohnedaruth John Coltrane: The Master Of Kosmic Music And His Spirituality In A Love Supreme" with a spiritual fervor that allows the guitarists and percussionists to drive the music forward as Laswell's buoyant electric bass glues the whole thing together. The great drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson was force of nature in Coleman's groups as well as his own band, The Decoding Society. "Ronald Shannon Jackson: The Master of Symphonic Drumming and Multi-Sonic Rhythms, Inscriptions of a Rare Beauty" looks into the free funk that Jackson was best known for. The percussionists really get a chance to shine here, creating complex settings for the rest of the band to interact with. "The Empress, Lady Day: In A Rainbow Garden, With Yellow-Gold Hot Springs, Surrounded By Exotic Plants And Flowers" is a spare and thoughtful tribute to Billy Holiday with ghostly guitar and percussion framing Smith's golden arcs of trumpet which carve the silence around him. Overall the album worked very well and it makes a perfect counterpoint to the solo trumpet record he released simultaneously with this one. Smith has been on an unstoppable roll lately as a bandleader and collaborator and this is yet another feather in his cap. Najwa -

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