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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wadada Leo Smith - Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform, 2009) *****

Wadada Leo Smith is like the Roman god Janus : he has many faces, but he's always the same. Whether he plays contemplative solos or duets, or complex modern jazz like on "Tabligh", or his endless odes to the electric Miles Davis, he is always the same musician, the same artist, just expressing himself differently.

On this album, you get two faces in succession : the first CD is a performance with his Golden Quintet, with Vijay Iyer on piano and synth, John Lindberg on bass and Pheeroan AkLaff and Don Moye on drums, the latter expanding the known quartet. The music is very much in the same vein as "Tabligh", a high quality and quite creative mix of composed improvisations, and a fantastic illustration of what five virtuosi can accomplish together. Smith's compositions are abstract, expansive, soaring, angular, sophisticated. The quintet is brains and emotions, and spirit.

On the second CD, the "Organic Resonance Ensemble", is more inspired by the electric Miles, and although the hypnotic rhythms, the electric bass and the electric guitars are omnipresent, so is the spirituality of Smith's trumpet playing. Next to Smith, the band consists of Nels Cline, Michael Gregory, Lamar Smith ánd Brandon Ross on guitars, Okkyung Lee on cello, John Lindberg on double bass, Skuli Sverisson on electric bass and Pheeroan AkLaff on drums. Despite this heavy line-up, the music keeps the clarity and discipline we've come to expect from Wadada Leo Smith. Just listen to the two basses pumping on "South Central L.A. Kulture" and the guitars waiting their turn to each come with subtle interjections and supportive riffs and coloring. Smith's compositions are expansive, linear, soaring, rhythmic, funky. The Ensemble is body and emotions, and spirit.

"Stef, again a five-star rating! You must be joking?"

I'm not. True, if you have "Tabligh", and the "Yo, Miles!" albums and all the rest, you might find this album a little redundant. Until you listen to it, and your heart leaps, your body shakes and your mind ... is out in the stratospheres ....

Listen and buy from iTunes

Listen to some excerpts from the first CD

Watch a Youtube clip with the Organic Resonance Ensemble

© stef