Monday, October 16, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM Records, 2017)

Trumpeter, composer and theorist Wadada Leo Smith has spent his life in search of new sounds and teaching and interpreting those sounds for the benefits of students, fans and mankind as a whole. Originally from Mississippi, he moved north, settling in Chicago, becoming active in the AACM, developing his own distinctive approach to composition and improvisation, eventually landing teaching jobs at respected universities and conservatories. One benefit of being in larger cities and musical communities was the ability to see other musical iconoclasts like Thelonious Monk in performance and to collect his records for future study. Monk's completely original approach to music became very important to Smith as his own performing and recording style developed, which eventually led to this solo trumpet meditation on the works of Monk as well as several Smith compositions written under the influence of Monk and his legacy. Trumpet must be one of the most difficult instruments to play unaccompanied, but Smith makes it feel completely natural, playing with a rich, golden tone that brings light to each of the performances on this album. The music is thoughtful and unhurried, sounding like the distillation of decades spent composing, playing, teaching and listening. This leads to a state of grace which imbues this recording with a nearly spiritual sensibility, an approach that works well on interpretations of Monk compositions like "Ruby My Dear" and "Reflections," which retain the rich wit and off kilter nature as the originals while using the trumpet to further interpret the music from Smith's own conception. His Monk dedicated originals, such as "Monk and his Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Cafe" recalls the awesome live stand Monk held at that cafe with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. "Adagio: Monk, the Composer in Sepia - A Second Vision" and "Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium - A Mystery" take the form of short stories or vignettes which try to make sense of the man and musician who was often inscrutable in his methods and mannerisms. This album ends with a heartrendingly lovely version of one of Thelonious Monk's most well known compositions, "Round Midnight." The noirish sensibility of the music and the interpretation of the source material make for a fine summation of Smith's music on this recording. He draws the listener into a insular, personal world that not only makes you appreciate the the interpretive and compositional abilities of Smith, but makes you reevaluate the music of Thelonious Monk, taking this beyond a mere tribute into a treatise on the life and times of one musical great by another. Solo - Reflections And Meditations On Monk - amazon.com

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