Wadada Leo Smith / Tumo

Occupy the World

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In 2012, composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith delivered his large-scale, conceptual opus Ten Freedom Summers as well as the bracing duet recording Ancestors with drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo. At nearly 72, he shows no signs of slowing down, as evidenced by Occupy the World, a two-disc package recorded with the 20-piece Nordic ensemble TUMO which features among its ranks trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, flutist Juhani Aaltone, harpist Iro Haarla, saxophonist Frederik Ljungqvist, and drummer Stefan Pasborg. There are numerous winds, strings, electric guitars, vibes, electronics, accordion, brass, piano, and drums. There are five new compositions on offer here, the shortest of which is just under 16 minutes. These new pieces extend out from Smith's composing system that doesn’t use transposition of any instrument's natural key; he uses the entire C spectrum as his base. What this means is that there are sections written with carefully designed passages that use an instrument's natural voice and harmonics. His system is also non-metric; it uses proportional relationships to guide the music along his envisioned horizontal flow. In addition to built-in dynamic tensions, widely varying textural elements, and elaborate harmonic constructions, there is considerable freedom built in for players to interact with one another all along his tonal range with varying tempi. While this creates an organic dissonance, it also creates almost limitless possibilities. "Mount Kilimanjaro (Love and Compassion for John Lindberg)" is a concerto written for and featuring the double bassist as prime soloist backed by three drummers. It is a tribute to his instincts as an improviser, attendant listener, and anchor in many of Smith's ensembles over the last 35 years, and is one of the three real treasures here. Disc two contains two truly major new works: "Crossing on a Southern Road (A Memorial for Marion Brown)," an expansive, colorful, yet brooding work that involves multiple ensembles covering various tonal ranges and contains one of Smith's most moving trumpeter solos on record, and "Occupy the World for Life, Liberty, and Justice," which had its debut performance in 2011 and has been substantially revised since for performance with this large group. Over half-an-hour, this ambitious work ranges from detailed notated sections where various units interact with others, sometimes slowly, spaciously, and deliberately, creating tensions that result in cacophonous, colorful, and wildly energetic interplay. It simultaneously celebrates the energy commitment and diversity of the Occupy movement, as well as depicting its sometimes tense encounters with police, government, and media. The handsome booklet that accompanies this package contains detailed notes by Smith, photos, as well as biographies of all the musicians. Occupy the World is a demanding listening experience -- we'd expect nothing less from a composer of Smith's mettle -- but its rewards are abundant for both fans of vanguard jazz and modern composition.

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