Avant-garde trumpet and flugelhorn player Wadada Leo Smith and chimurenga vocalist Thomas Mapfumo may seem like an odd pairing. Indeed, the differences between their respective styles are apparent on this album; Mapfumo and his band, Blacks Unlimited, sound relaxed and upbeat -- they even approach middle-of-the-road pop on "Big in America" -- while Smith and his band, N'Da Kulture, sound more venturesome and abrasive, particularly during some of Smith's trumpet solos and the dissonant guitar workouts by Henry Kaiser and Woody Lee Aplanalp. Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser collaborated before on Yo, Miles!, which paid homage to the '70s fusion work of Miles Davis, and they continue in a similar musical vein on Dreams & Secrets; this time, however, they perform Smith's original compositions instead of Davis covers, work with a different set of musicians, and don't stretch their ideas out as thinly. They do seem to dominate the proceedings since Thomas Mapfumo wrote only four of the album's 12 tracks (and three of the four were co-written with Smith); nonetheless, Blacks Unlimited help give this album a lighter, richer, and more textured sound, and the musicians more than hold their own. For example, Zivani Wilberforce Masanga's mastery of the trumpet is particularly evident on "Big in America." When the two groups of musicians come together and both seem to be contributing, the results are magical, such as when Smith soars through Black Unlimited's precisely arranged horn lines near the end of "Regai Tione/Jealousy." But when they don't quite gel or Blacks Unlimited seems to contribute relatively little -- for example, "Epic Memory" -- the results are more pedestrian.
AllMusic Review by Todd Kristel