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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wadada Leo Smith & John Tilbury - Bishopsgate Concert (Treader, 2014) ****½

[b]By Stef[/b]

It's a late review for an excellent album. No need to introduce the two protagonists, two men who come from totally different musical horizons, with John Tilbury on piano, classically trained, adept of Morton Feldman, and one of the founders of electro-acoustic music with AMM and Keith Rowe, and the other musician is Wadada Leo Smith, trained in jazz and gradually moving into free improvisation and even modern classical music. So you could say that both musicians will meet each other halfway between modern classical and free improv, and it is and it is not exactly.

First, John Tilbury plays a solo piece on two pianos, one prepared and the other not, in the typical minimalist style that you can expect from him, with precise and carefully delivered notes creating fascinating music around silence. Beautiful.

Second, we get three solo trumpet pieces by Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith, with a sound that is both rawer, louder and more expansive than the piano. His first improvisation oscillates between meditative spiritual moments with moments of wrestling and inner torment, followed by a more bluesy muted piece, offering more silence to work as the backdrop for his beautiful tone, which is shattered by the third improvisation, which starts by the piercing tones of the Middle Eastern zurna, switched into a clear-voiced trumpet again, and it becomes the most moving piece of the solo trumpet moments.

Third, both artists join forces, in the half-hour long title track, and then the real beauty starts, or at least the album that you would have expected based on the title. To the credit of both musicians, they find a new sound, one which is more nervous, more agitated than their solo pieces, with more attack and energetic interaction, with larger intervals, but luckily they let silence creep in again, as a third element, leading to more calm and intimate moments, followed by more adventure and extended techniques, and much more, yet without loosing the coherence of the piece. It remains interesting and captivating if only because of the variation on the core idea, because of the shifts in emotions and intensity, between darkness and playfulness (including Tilbury's bird whistle), between sadness and surprise.

Music can be so great in the hands of top creative musicians.

Available from Instantjazz