Wadada Leo Smith

Reflectativity [1974]

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When this album was released, Wadada Leo Smith was living in New Haven and forming groups of young disciples, some of them drawn from the Yale music school. He worked frequently with the trio heard here and they were important partners in a transition he was making in his music as more melodic, lyrical, and spiritual concerns began forming around the abstract sound inventions of the earlier, Chicago- and Paris-based years. He was no longer playing with various quirky members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians such as Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins, but instead had a regular group of collaborators willing to study his more extended and complicated compositions. This trio worked long and hard on Reflectativity and the fact that this piece was chosen to be completely re-recorded a quarter of a century later as a Smith project for the Tzadik label is quite an honor. The list of compositions from the so-called jazz school to receive similar treatment is short. The same pianist, Anthony Davis, is present on both recordings so the comparison in his case would be between the playing of a young music student and that of an experienced concert performer with a successful career of his own. In the case of the bassists, the earlier recording features Wes Brown, who was also working in the group of swing pianist Earl Hines at this time, but Brown is replaced on the Tzadik version by Malachi Favors, best known as a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Brown was a gentle, slow-moving, and not particularly forceful bassist -- in other words, the direct opposite of Favors. So one major difference with the earlier recording is that the dominant musical personality is definitely Smith's, which listeners can compare with what happens when more well-known jazz players jump into the mix. The leader's composition most definitely controls the action in both cases; the earlier recording shines in a special way with the feeling of discovery and invention. Well beyond the structural clich├ęs of normal "head-solo-head-and out" jazz, this piece is one of the finest combinations of improvisation and composition ever recorded.

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