Trumpeter, composer, music theorist, and cultural activist Wadada Leo Smith has been a leading light in the jazz and new music vanguard for nearly 40 years. His numerous recordings for Black Saint, Moers Music, Pi, Boxholder, ECM, Tzadik, and other labels in Europe, Japan, and the United States are all elements of the evolutionary progress of his wonderfully idiosyncratic system called "new world music." This four-CD box set on John Zorn's Tzadik label is incontrovertible proof of the label's mission to issue music by artists he respects regardless of commercial value or "critical" (d)evaluation. Kabell was a label set up by Smith to document his theories regarding not only the structure of music but its sonorities, its integrational possibilities with society at large, and of course more requisite ideas about the development of harmony, tonal integration, and the language of elocution he created. The box compiles music from four albums: the truly moving and beautiful first Kabell release (Creative Music -- 1), which featured Smith solo using trumpet, flügelhorn, and a plethora of percussions and stringed instruments; the trio sides with pianist Anthony Davis and bassist Wes Brown from the second Kabell album (Reflectativity); the trio and quintet sides with his New Dalta Ahkri band that included Oliver Lake and Pheeroan akLaff in addition to Brown and Davis from the next Kabell disc (Song of Humanity); and his return to solo work and extended composition from the fourth Kabell disc (Akhreanvention).
In addition to the four original albums contained on single discs, there is over two hours of supplemental material that corresponds to the release of each album in different settings, much of it recorded live. What this accomplishes is not merely to fill out individual CDs, but to offer a multidimensional articulation of Smith's vision in the context of being in the world and to bring this new musical language to audiences who may not have encountered it before. This aspect of Kabell Years cannot be overstated. Smith's musical world has grown multidimensionally over the past 30 years, and the 1970s were pivotal for its foundation. Scores are reprinted in the booklet to offer views of how parallel sound universes intersect in Smith's pieces as narrative devices -- stunning examples are the score for his "Transcendental Suite" and "t wmukl -- D." In Smith's sonic terrain, improvisation offers an in for the scored compositions to become less centrally focused, and therefore open-ended, inconclusive, and full of possibilities both identifiable and remote. His use of tonal interpolation and extended harmonic levels offers integration not only of the blues, but also of Eastern sonorities, methods of breath control, and the expression of the musical unconscious as a nurtured, analytical process. However, the solo recordings are the most satisfying, because Smith's sense of humor is fully expressed as a part of his vision; his warmth and accessibility are what set him apart from many of his peers, and there is great tenderness and poetry in the way he uses musical language as a place for dialogue rather than dictation. This is a monumentally important addition to the recorded library of avant-garde music and should be considered a necessary part of any enthusiast's shelf.