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Wadada Leo Smith's Mbira: Dark Lady of the Sonnets

As I mentioned in a previous review, horn player Wadada Leo Smith has a massive discography. The consummately busy musician released Dark Lady of the Sonnets in 2011. This time the flugelhorn and trumpet specialist enlisted the help of Min Xiao-Fen (pipa, voice) and Pheeroan akLaff (drums). For those of you interested, the pipa is an ancient Chinese instrument related to the lute. All three musicians are integral to the trio's free form avant-garde sound, or as Smith calls it "non-metrical in design".

Whether or not you will dig this album depends on how far you like your jazz outside the normal confines of standard composition. Let's just say this album will not be for newbies as there is very little structure here. The seemingly sporadic strums and plucking from Fen seem in contrast with AkLaff's sometimes minimalistic drums and is held together by Smith's imaginative horn playing which at times leads the trio into complete and utter discord.

The album contains five tracks with four over ten minutes in length. The longer pieces serve the trio's penchant for unusual sounds and musical explorations, firmly establishing themselves in the realm of the avant-garde. The album's first two tracks are prime examples. "Sarah Bell Wallace", a tribute to Smith's late mother, features a loose arrangement of pipa, drums and horn work eventually leading to total chaos. "Blues: Cosmic Beauty" is perhaps the poster child for weirdness as Smith's sharp blasts of horn, akLaff's furious pace on the drums and Fen's strange vocalizations takes this song into another level of bluesy dissonance.

Dark Lady of the Sonnets is clearly not for everyone. Only fans of free form jazz need apply. A TUM Records release.

Track Listing:
1. Sarah Bell Wallace (11:53)
2. Blues: Cosmic Beauty (10:30)
3. Zulu Water Festival (6:28)
4. Dark Lady of the Sonnets (10:54)
5. Mbira (16:11)

Added: October 22nd 2014
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Label's Official Site
Hits: 2152
Language: english

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