Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wadada Leo Smith, The Great Lakes Suites

There seems little doubt about it in my mind, trumpeter-composer-leader Wadada Leo Smith continues to be one of the guiding lights in the new jazz today. He is doing some of the very best work of his career and it continues to delight. The new one, a return to a horns and rhythm group setting after several seminal large group works, brings us a series of pieces he calls The Great Lakes Suites (TUM CD 041-2 2-CDs).

Wadada creates a quartet of some very heavy players. There is of course Wadada himself on trumpet, Henry Threadgill sounding great on alto sax, flute and bass flute, John Lindberg on double bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

The first thing you notice, something that puts a strong foundation under the music, is the wonderful free-time drumming of DeJohnette. We've heard far too little of it in recent years and it reminds us how good he is in this zone. He still is a master at it. That adds much to the proceedings. John Lindberg prevails as a heavy on arco and pizzicato. And then Henry and Wadada sound better than ever.

The compositional frameworks go beyond head-solos-head form. There are motives the band gets into during the improvs that are pre-conceived. Where composition leaves off and improvisation begins is a fluid thing and it gives the freedom of the players an inherent structure that catapults the entire sequencing onto a higher plane. Yet as we would hope the improvisations are no less masterful.

It's an extended look at a master quartet and a master composer-conceptualist meeting on common ground and creating some exceptional music.

Outstanding! And so of course very recommended. Wadada is a leader in the widest sense. He keeps the music alive in the most vibrant way.

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