Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Wadada Leo Smith with Milford Graves and Bill Laswell, Sacred Ceremonies


An artist of stature grows in time if he or she has the time, the opportunity and of course the vision. Trumpet master and composer Wadada Leo Smith is an excellent example. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since those early Anthony Braxton Trio recordings with Leroy Jenkins. Wadada grew into a formidable band leader and composer, then there was the electric Davis tribute Yo Miles! that saw him encompassing and going beyond that initial open electric field.

And after all that great music Wadada has apparently been synthesizing where he has been and now we hear a kind of wrapping of it together in a substantial three-CD improvisational box titled Sacred Ceremonies (TUM Box 003). 

Each CD maps out a series of free improvs. On CD1 Wadada Leo Smith's trumpet melds with edgy, rolling and  tumbling drumming from the late Milford Graves. CD 2 features Wadada and Bill Laswell on electric bass. Then CD3 brings all of them together in a climactic set of three way expressions.

Wadada maintains top form here, quite apparently inspired in turn by Milford and then Bill, then all three. Graves gives us a prime slab of his open stance rolling freetime, often divided into cymbal-bass drum washes that contrast in advanced terms with Graves' special independent and poly-complicated trap drum lines. Put it all together and it gives Wadada and Bill a multidirectional urging forward where there are a great variety of things that can and do work atop the drums. with a vast array of possibilities that Wadada and Bill can react to. And react they do with some beautifully open phraseology.

For all the successful dates and appearances he's made on electric bass, we sometimes might forget that there is a good reason why he fits into a great many possible combinations--because he is ever inventive, forward flowing and always somehow right with what he fashions via-a-vis the musical now.

Wadada plays some of his strongest lines here. It is as if he has had the time after Yo Miles! to incorporate and synthesize that aspect  of his playing into the wider Wadada model of free playing.

Given the sad loss of Milford this past February, the set becomes that much more precious in how it gives us a long listen to the Graves drumming way near the very end of it all. But this is regardless crucial for the three-way dialog that gradually and luxuriously unfolds across the three disks.

It is a session to linger over, something to appreciate in its unrushed focus on the evolving moment, in its way a masterpiece of free invention. Wadada continues to be serious business, a master among masters. Check this one out for sure. And RIP Milford Graves.

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