He might not be a household name like the late, great, Miles Davis, but veteran trumpet visionary Wadada Leo Smith is certainly well known to anyone with a passing interest in jazz and avant-garde music. This latest 2CD set from Cuneiform Records showcases two live shows, the first is a set from June of 2008 with his five piece in New York City, and the second with an expanded band in April 2009 from New Haven, Connecticut.
The live set from Vision XIII in New York City is a great example of how 'avant-garde' jazz can really get, so much so that it often rolls over into 'free-jazz' territory. Smith's stacatto bursts collide with rambling piano lines from Vijay Iyer on "Al-Shadhili's Litany Of The Sea", a wild, dissonant number complete with plenty of frantic rhythms from drummers Pheeroan AkLaff & Don Moye and bassist John Lindberg. "Pacifica" is another off-kilter number with dizzying piano and drum blasts, leading into the near 15-minute rumble that is "Umar At The Dome Of The Rock". This one is a great vehicle for both drummers, and also features some frenzied bleats from Smith's trumpet. Pianist Iyer is the star on "Crossing Sirat", and closing number "South Central L.A. Kulture" is more of a groove laden funk/jazz piece, similar in scope to Miles Davis' On the Corner period, featuring some heavy wah-wah bass lines from Lindberg, and great trumpet work from Smith. Easily the best piece from this set, and shows Smith's Golden Quintet in fine form.
Over on CD2, Smith's Organic ensemble of 10 musicians plow through some adventurous material at the Firehouse in New Haven. Here, Smith is surrounded by an assortment of electric guitar players, electric & acoustic bass, cello, and drums. The style here is more funk based, with touches of avant-garde, and again, Miles Davis' early/mid 1970's material comes to mind. " South Central L.A. Kulture" featues wah-wah guitars, elastic bass grooves, and stabbing trumpet lines over a steady rhythm, while "Angela Davis" is near 20 minutes of controlled fury, guitars seemingly ready to unleash slabs of molten lava at any second, angry cello barely contained in the mix, and before everything seems ready to expode, Smith and his yearning trumpet finishes out the piece on a tranquil note. "Organic" can be best described as space jazz-funk, as the guitars summon plenty of psychedelic sounds while the bass & drums lay down a pure funk groove, and closing number "Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy" is probably the closest this set comes to jazz-fusion, as it features plenty of rock elements to go along with some jazz finesse.
Wadada Leo Smith has featured two completely different sets here from two varied line-ups, and depending on how you like your avant-jazz will depend on which is your favorite. I prefer the experimention that his guitar heavy Organic line-up delivers, but both are quite good when you get right down to it.
1. Al-Shadhili's Litany Of The Sea 12:59
2. Pacifica 5:49
3. Umar At The Dome Of The Rock 14:56
4. Crossing Sirat 6:22
5. South Central L.A. Kulture 15:42
1. South Central L.A. Kulture 12:37
2. Angela Davis 19:23
3. Organic 18:09
4. Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy 13:34