Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart's Reflections

The jewel case holding the two discs of Heart’s Reflections from Wadada Leo Smith’s Organic sports a simple cover image of alphabet-like curved gold and black lines on white and red fields. On that is superimposed the title of the record.  On the back is a listing of tracks and performers on a deep brown field where a nearly invisible full circle is also inscribed; its diameter is almost the width of the jewel case.

Open up the case and the visual information explodes. On the left is a stunning full frontal photo of Smith playing his trumpet and on the right is poised the first of the discs on which is printed a reproduction of one of Smith’s scores that shows horizontal bands of bright colors through which flows a line signifying changes. The three page bi-folded liner notes themselves exhibit additional portions of Smith scores and a detailed roster of information, spelling out who solos when in each piece and where they are identifiable in the stereo channel field.  Flip the cd holder and the second disc is revealed bearing the same colorful score reproduction. A photo of a golden grass field through which a fence runs appears on the inside back.

Organic has fourteen members, both male and female. The complete sound of the instruments spans a range of extraordinary balance.  No instrument hits a shrieking peak except for the trumpet, and the drums and bass lend heavy weight when called for compositionally. The music, all written by Smith, expands on the nature of contrasts, the necessary intensity of fluidity, melodic coherence, controlled dissonance and the inexorable presence of rhythmic design.  Violin, basses, guitars, piano, reeds, electronics, drums and Smith’s single trumpet comprise an ensemble whose transmission of the composer’s intention “to transform the music” never waivers.

Throughout the performance, a distinct pattern arises of conversation between clear-cut solo and duo presentations over the landscape of the “collective” sound. Smith’s trumpet is both the grounding component and the initiator for improvisation. He sets the standards for, corals the performers within and integrates his own playing throughout the organization of musical evolution.  His trumpet never disappears in the collective; it shines, glorifies joy, conjoins with spirit, and magnifies peace in relation to its creative sources.  He instills the same goals in the rest of the players.  This is reason that the sound unwinds easily without sharp turns or undesirable clusters of sonic disturbance. The motion of the music is biomorphic.  When it has resolved, the sound simply stops. 

The titles of the pieces refer to Smith’s experience: from his practice of the Sufi tradition to his metaphorical appreciation of nature to his nods to writer Toni Morrison, trumpeter Don Cherry, and violinist LeRoy Jenkins from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music in which Smith used to participate. 

This recording musically describes the layers of life that Smith has further scrutinized, which have everything to do with the present moment as it is guided by feelings, the gift of the breath and how to offer love.

copyright 2011 Lyn Horton

Label: Cuneiform Records

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, electric trumpet; Michael Gregory: electric guitars; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Brandon Ross: electric guitar; John Lindberg: acoustic bass, electric acoustic bass; Skúli Sverrison: electric bass, six-string bass; Angelica Sanchez: acoustic piano, Wurlitzer electric piano; Josh Gerowitz: electric guitar; Lamar Smith: electric guitar; Stephanie Smith: violin; Casey Anderson: alto saxophone; Casey Butler: tenor saxophone; Mark Trayle: laptop; Charlie Burgin: laptop.

Track Listing: Disc One: Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden (For Don Cherry); Heart’s Reflections: The Splendors of Light and Purification (tracks 2-9) (for Shaykh Abu Al-Hasan al-Shadhili): The Dhikr Of Radiant Hearts, Pt. I; The Dhikr Of Radiant Hearts, Pt. II; The Majestic Way; The Shaykh, As Far As Humaythira; Spiritual Wayfarers; Certainty; Ritual Purity And Love, Pt. I; Ritual Purity And Love, Pt. II; Disc Two: Heart’s Reflections: The Splendors of Light and Purification (tracks 1-3) (for Shaykh Abu Al-Hasan al-Shadhili): Silsila; The Well: From Bitter To Fresh Sweet Water, Pt. I; Well: From Bitter To Fresh Sweet Water, Pt. II; Toni Morrison: The Black Hole (Sagittarius A)/Conscience And Epic Memory (For Toni Morrison); Leroy Jenkins's Air Steps (For Leroy Jenkins).

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