Wadada Leo Smith

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America Review

by Phil Freeman

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most fascinating players in American avant-garde jazz. Perhaps only Miles Davis was more interested in exploring the spaces between notes -- and Smith has spent many years exploring Davis' electric music in Yo Miles!, the group he co-leads with guitarist Henry Kaiser. He's recorded in just about every conceivable setting, from the solo trumpet excursions heard on Kabell Years: 1971-1979 to big bands, and his latest disc is, in a couple of different ways, another facet of his fascination with Miles Davis. He's partnered up with drummer Jack DeJohnette, who played in Davis' band from 1969-1972 but who also backed the initial lineup of Smith's Golden Quartet. And one of the compositions here, "Red Trumpet," seems to be named in tribute to Davis' famous horn, while the opening cut, "America, Pts. 1, 2, 3," quotes from Davis' solo on "Concierto de Aranjuez" from Sketches of Spain. That's only part of the picture, of course. Smith and DeJohnette are highly individual voices, unique and immediately recognizable on their respective instruments and endlessly creative and inventive, and throughout this album they explore melody, rhythm, and pure sound in a symbiotic duet that's some of the best music either man has made. The austere stillness at the heart of Smith's music is anchored and emphasized by DeJohnette's powerful mastery of the drum kit, adding up to a record that deserves to be placed alongside Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell's Mu sessions in the avant-jazz pantheon.

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