Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wadada Leo Smith: Heart's Reflection

Wadada Leo Smith's Organic (trumpet)
Heart's Reflections (Cuneiform Records; 2011)

A real propagator of intense, creative sound sculpture, Wadada Leo Smith has been challenging how we experience music for over four decades and over 30+ albums.

He has become one of the most revered elder statesmen of jazz as well as an educator and theorist. He developed a compositional style he called Ankrasmation. It is a theory in which sound relies more on graphic notation than musical notes. This is something that may lend itself more to free jazz than contemporary jazz. And while it may sounds like it's free/avant garde it actually has a lot of melody and direction which may shock even the most novice jazz fan.

Smith's style, especially in recent years has been compared to fusion era (e.g. Big Fun) Miles Davis but where Miles was still molding funk and jazz, Smith has taken those ideas one step further. As we discussed in our piece on Smith/Kaiser's Yo Miles series, the music is funky, anarchistic and forward-looking. Wadada Leo Smith's newest album with one of his three main groups Organic, is entitled Heart's Reflection. It's a blues/funk influenced work that spans two discs but also is probably one of the best and exciting records from Smith in years.

Upon first listen to the lengthy but vibrant opening track "Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden", Smith details a groove that is both funky, exploratory and filled with improvised moments. His group Organic uses of electronics, guitars and piano give the album an out of this world vibe (in vein of Sun Ra). But Smith keeps the groove in flow and you may not even notice you've been bobbing your head for twenty minutes. "The Black Hole" hearkens back to Organic's previous set called Spiritual Dimensions which has much more of an experimental, free flowing feel to it. There are guitars, drums, piano and percussion all in point/counterpoint but still somehow remaining in rhythm. Smith's playing is superb throughout. He really allows the ensemble to move freely and without warning. "The Black Hole" is enveloping and expansive. It's driving force is more the rest of ensemble than Smith himself and that is always the sign of a great leader.

"The Majestic Way" and "Certainty" both have moments where not only Smith but his bandmates (in particular, Angelica Sanchez (electric piano), Josh Gerowitz (guitar) and Pheeroan AkLaff (drums)) really move into interstellar regions with their performances. It's funky in a Big Fun, Bitches Brew kind of way but still wholly original. Sanchez's performance on "Certainty" is deep and swirling with Hancock-esque quality. Great stuff.

Heart's Reflection is one of those secret weapons in an artist's arsenal that very few people may hear about. In the vast catalogue of Wadada Leo Smith, Heart's Reflection is an album that deserves your undivided attention.

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