GÜNTER BABY SOMMER,
dessen kauzige Anmoderation des Zentralquartetts beim Würzburger
Jazzfestival 2006 sogar unterfränkische Eiszapfen zum Schmelzen
brachte, ist der Garant für eine Spielfreude, die sich ansonsten
im Eurojazz & -Impro ganz gut zu tarnen versteht. Eine Verbindung
mit dem eher abstrakt und spirituell ausgerichteten Trompeter WADADA
LEO SMITH erscheint im ersten Moment unmotiviert. Aber sie geht, vermittelt
durch Peter Kowald, zurück auf die Jahre 1979 bis 82, als die drei
durch Europa tourten und für FMP Touch the Earth & Break the
Shells einspielten. Bei der Wiederbegegnung 2005 beim Total Music Meeting
in Berlin war noch Barre Phillips als Bindeglied dabei. Für eine
bis aufs Taktlos führende Tour im Mai 2006 und die gleichzeitige
Studioaufnahme Wisdom in Time (Intakt CD 128) suchten die beiden konsequent
das Tête-à-tête. Für die Kombination von Drums
& Trompete könnten die Duette von Blackwell & Cherry oder
Oxley & Dixon Pate stehen. Sommer & Smith füllen das intime
Format mit ausordentlichem Reichtum. Der eine mit opulenter, dabei aber
stöckchenspitzer Achtsamkeit, tupfiger Gedämpftheit und doch
mit den starken Farbkontrasten von Fell, Holz und Metall und eines perkussiven
Arsenals einschließlich Gong, dumpfem Tamtam oder Muscheln. Ebenso
vollspektral wie Sommers Spiel, das überdeutlich sich als Füllhorn
entfaltet und immer wieder Dresden Richtung Wendekreis des Krebses verschiebt
(‚Woodland Trail to the Giants‘), ist der Trompetensound
seines Partners. Smith ist ein Magier des Chromatisch-Melodischen. Wenn
oben von Reife die Rede war, dann ist sie hier in das goldene Stadium
spätsommerlicher und meisterlicher Mürbe und Süße
eingetreten. Smith sticht, schneidet und schmettert nicht, und dennoch
strahlen seine versonnenen Klänge und dringen in Tiefenschichten
vor mit der Kraft des Weichen. Bei ‚Rain Cycles‘ ist der
Trompetensound elektronisch frisiert, Sommer stöchert in Schrott
und findet eine Mundharmonika. Es geht nicht um Nostalgie, sondern um
Magie. Nicht einmal das Kowald gewidmete ‚Bass-Star Hemispheres‘
ist rückwärts gewandt, nur besinnlich und mit den Ohren an
den Membranen zu Vergangenheit und Zukunft. Wenn es ein Motto gibt,
dann ‚Old Times Roll - New Times Goal‘.
Dittmann, Bad Alchemy, 54/2007
Featuring Wadada Leo Smith
on trumpet, flugelhorn & electronics and Gunter Baby Sommer on drums
& percussion. Leo Smith and Gunter Sommer were first brought together
by Peter Kowald more than twenty years ago. This is a superbly recorded
studio date, recorded in May of 2006, after the duo had done a short
tour of Germany and had just played the Taklos Festival in Zurich, Switzerland.
The delicate balance is just right, the drum-set recorded in stereo
with Leo's trumpet riding the waves of silence and well-selected drums
and cymbals. "Tarantella Rusticana" begins with some dramatic
gongs, cymbals and spacious hand-percussion. As Gunter slowly gets into
a hypnotic groove, Leo's trumpet dances joyously upon the groove. Leo's
somber flugelhorn is featured on "Pure Stillness", with some
ultra-subtle percussion from Gunter. When the tempo increases, the duo
still sail together and weave their notes tightly around one another
in a most magical and creative way. Superb.
Bruce Gallenter, Downtown Music Gallery, New York, March
Francesca Odilia Bellino
Come la maggior parte dei dischi impro anche Wisdom in Time ha la sua
(retro)storia, ossia un percorso, delle vicende e degli incontri tra
i due protagonisti, Wadada Leo Smith e Gunter Baby Sommer, che sottendono
la musica vera e propria.
Già proprio quella che quando la si ascolta fa dimenticare tutto,
ma proprio tutto, dando invece importanza e centralità solo ed
esclusivamente al Presente, all’Attimo, all’Atto, come gesti
unici e assoluti di quell’incredibile e inesauribile esperienza
che è l’improvvisazione. Nulla conta più dell’anima
e di quel che essa sprigiona. La (retro)storia può essere tranquillamente
riposta nelle note di copertina, la musica assolutamente mai.
Per capire Wisdom in Time basta dire che Wadada Leo Smith e Gunter Baby
Sommer dopo essersi conosciuti nel lontanissimo 1979 si ritrovano a
suonare insieme in una serie di concerti che dalla Germania li fanno
approdare al Taktlos Festival di Zurigo, da dove è inevitabile
indirizzarsi in sala di registrazione, nel 2006. Poi il titolo del CD,
Wisdom in Time, per coronare l’esperienza, e le nove tracce, dai
titoli altrettanto profetici, per suggellare le nove fucilate di musica
pura ed eterea.
Wadada Leo Smith colpisce sempre e con una luminosità sconcertante.
Come non può farlo un trombettista tanto straordinario?! Penetra
e fatalmente assorbe le percussioni del suo gregario, sapiente nel trovare
continuamente la dimensione giusta in cui collocare quel suono acuto,
denso, metallico, mai netto, eppure nitido, della tromba di Leo Smith.
... Suono, componente così centrale nel modo si suonare e di
vivere la musica per Leo Smith ... Le nove tracce Wisdom in Time potrebbero
essere ascoltate in quest’ottica, ovvero nella ricerca continua
da parte di entrambi i musicisti del Suono. Non necessariamente quello
giusto, ma quello più vero. Tecnica, armonie, ritmo si convogliano
nel corso dell’ascolto su un canale unico, sempre più flebile,
che piano piano si assottiglia tanto da diventare, sul finale, quasi
un modo del tempo interiore, vibrante e devoto al silenzio.
Wisdom in Time va collocato in quella piccola, ma pregiata, costellazione
di storiche registrazioni tromba-percussioni, tra le quali ricoridamo
quelle di Don Cherry e Ed Blackwell (Mu del 1969), Bill Dixon e Tony
Oxley (Papyrus Volume I e Volume II).
Francesca Odilia Bellino, All About Jazz Italia, March 2007
kleine Form, Direktheit, Progress, Improvisation, Reife. Das Duo Trompete
/ Drum ist zwar selten im Jazz, aber doch präsent: Cherry/Blackwell
oder Dixon/Oxley sind z.B. Zeugen dafür. Smith und Sommer lernten
sich bereits 1979 im Trio mit Peter Kowald kennen, jetzt führen
sie - mit der bewussten Bass-Leerstelle des verstorbenen Wuppertaler
Unikums - das Spiel weiter und auf eine neue Ebene: intensiver, deutlicher,
poetischer. Nur zwei absolute Könner sollten sich auf so ein Spiel
einlassen, dass ansonsten auf Dauer schwer in die Hose gehen bzw. im
Belanglosen versanden kann. Genau das passiert hier natürlich nicht:
wie über neun Stücke ruhige Bögen gezogen und entspannte
Wege in weiten Klanglandschaften gefunden werden, das ist schon ziemlich
großartig mitzuverfolgen. Das Material von Sommer, der immer poetischer
und gleichsam gelassener perkussioniert, und Smith, dessen Linien an
den klarsten Trompetenjazz überhaupt erinnern - you name it -,
gewinnt über die kürzeste Zeit dermaßen viel Ruhe und
Energie, dass wir Zuhörer uns in der größten Aktivität
ruhigen Gewissens einmal niederlassen und dann mit bewegter Gewissheit
neu aufstehen können.
Music made my day by HONKER. TERZ 04.07
Sur Wisdom in Time, le percussionniste
Günter Baby Sommer – membre du Zentralquartett et partenaire
occasionnel de Peter Brötzmann, Irène Schweizer ou Cecil
Taylor – retrouve le trompettiste Wadada Leo Smith, ami de trente
ans qu’il a jadis fréquenté aux côtés
de Peter Kowald.
Alternant trompette et bugle, Smith fait preuve d’une extravagance
assurée (Tarantella Rusticana) ou d’un lyrisme charmeur
(Pure Stilness), perturbant de temps à autre son propos à
coups de traitements électroniques plus (Rain Cycles) ou moins
sauvages (Bass-Star Hemispheres). De son côté, Sommer tient
le dialogue, décidant d’accents légers (Pure Stilness)
ou emmenant le jeu du duo sur un swing approprié (Old Times Roll
- New Times Goal) ou sur un mode incantatoire (Gasire's Lute).
Dans les pas du duo Don Cherry / Ed Blackwell, Smith et Sommer font
déroute ensemble en éternels camarades certains de leur
complicité. Preuve la plus récente à ce jour, ce
Wisdom in Time.
Chroniqué par Grisli, d'Mute, France, 18/04/2007
Leo Smith, Peter Kowald and
Günter 'Baby' Sommer first played together in West Berlin in 1979.
As the sleevenotes to this superb release point out, Sommer had worked
a lot with hi-energy saxophonists such as Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann,
a model which Smith's cooler trumpet playing didn't fit. But both are
listening players, and their partnership developed and flourished. Now,
when Smith and Sommer play together, the bassist's chair is left empty,
in memory of the irreplaceable Kowaid. "Bass-Star Hemispheres"
'is this album's dedication to him - a fragile, wistful melody interpreted
by Smith, with Sommer on gongs and bells as well as trap kit.
The trumpet/drums duo is rare, despite classics as Don Cherry &
Ed Blackwell's Mu, and Bill Dixon ft Tony Oxley's Papyrus,
and I noted Wisdom's 65 minute length with a little trepidation.
The worry proved groundless: only modestly augmented with electronics
and exotic percussion, Smith and Sommer have created an orchestral masterpiece
that rivals those fine products of the genre. Miles Davis's legacy is
clear, especially in Smith's Harmon-muted playing - it's interesting
how the Davis model, once so distinctive, has become pervasive - but
even so, his originality is not in question. Smith has always stressed
the interdependence of composition and improvisation, and on these pieces
the sense of form is palpable. On "Woodland Tale To The Giants",
he deploys subtle electronics - more prominent on "Rain Cycles"
- while Sommer is on large slit drum, with a deep woody tone. "Tarantella
Rusticana" is reminiscent of the folk material from Zentralquartett's
splendid 11 Songs on lntakt from 2006, which featured Sommer.
With such a variety of moods, timbres and textures, this album grips
the listener from first to last note and drumbeat.
ANDY HAMILTON, The Wire, April 2007
Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 27. April 2007
Reife, Reduktion, Schönheit
„Bass-Star Hemispheres“, das sechste, zwölf berückende
Minuten lang schwebende Stück dieser wunderbaren CD, ist wie eine
Flaschenpost im unübersichtlichen Meer des freien Jazz, ist eine
dialogische Preziose ganz nah beim Kern der Dinge. Die Trompete sendet
erhaben ihre Signale, ringt sie sich aus dem Leib, ruft sie gemessen
ins Offne. Die Akzente des Schlagzeuges sind sparsam getupft, sind mal
wie ein Streicheln, mal wie Schläge auf den Punkt. Nichts ist überflüssig
hier und zwischen den Tönen ist viel Raum für Stille. Das
ist weise Musik wie zur Andacht, ist Einkehr, ist ein großes Bei-sich-Sein.
Es ist ein würdevoller Nach-Ruf an den Bassisten Peter Kowald,
der im September 2002 in New York gestorben ist und gegen Ende der siebziger
Jahre die Idee zu einer Trio-Begegnung hatte, die noch immer als Ereignis
gelten muss, wenn von Grenzüberschreitungen die Rede ist.
Inmitten einer hektischen Szene trafen sich mit dem Wuppertaler Kowald,
dem Dresdner Schlagzeuger Günter „Baby“ Sommer und
dem Trompeter Leo Smith aus Chicago drei Individuen mit vollkommen unterschiedlichen
Hintergründen, Mentalitäten und Sozialisationen: Ost- und
Westdeutschland, Europa und Amerika, Schwarz und Weiß, afrikanisch
grundierte Basis und europäische Kopfgeburten. Zwei CDs entstanden
– „Touch The Earth” (1979) und „Break the Shells”
(1981) – die noch immer sehr besonders sind, weil sie aus der
Zeit fallen als scheinbar unspektakuläre Solitäre jenseits
von Kraftmeierei, Beflissenheit und revolutionärer Attitüde,
als souveräne Ruheinseln im Bildersturm, als sensibel spirituelle
23 Jahre später sind sich Smith und Sommer wiederbegegnet. Jeder
hat seine gigantische Diskographie inzwischen von Soloaufnahmen bis
zu Großorchestralem, jeder ist anerkannt als einer der Besten
seines Instruments, jeder hat seine Sprache perfektioniert, beide haben
die Sechzig überschritten inzwischen und geben ihre Erfahrungen
weiter als Professoren, Smith am von Charlie Haden gegründeten
California Institute of the Arts, Sommer an der Hochschule für
Musik Carl-Maria von Weber in Dresden.
Nach ein paar Konzerten im Frühsommer 2006 zog man sich für
zwei Tage zurück in ein kleines Schweizer Studio in ländlicher
Gegend. Der Platz des Bassisten blieb frei. Das nun zu hörende
Ergebnis ist ein behutsamer Diskurs, ein mit Reife und Sicherheit überzeugendes
intimes Spiel, eine meisterliche Bilanz auf höchster Höhe
voller Behutsamkeit und jenseits der Eile des Musikbetriebs. Leo Smith
ist der poetische Sänger, der seine Seele bloßlegt. Günter
„Baby“ Sommer der Nuancen häufende Trommler, der Rhythmen
mit- und gegeneinander schiebt wie schwerelos. Diese Musik ist nicht
zugestellt, sondern transparent und doch intensiv. Sie kann grooven,
meditieren, innehalten, forcieren und wie selbstverständlich Abstraktheit,
Spiritualität und Sinnlichkeit zusammenführen. Sie muss nichts
mehr beweisen und verzaubert genau deswegen.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Leipziger Volkszeitung, 20.4.2007
In the liner notes to the
latest duo opus from trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and percussionist Gunter
Baby Sommer, Oliver Schwerdt points out the lack of a great body of
work by this sort of instrumental line-up. To my mind, the most successful
was the body of work eschewed by Bill Dixon and Tony Oxley on the two
volumes of Papyrus [Soul Note] dating back to late 90's. Since that
time, I can't recall a single trumpet-percussion duo that has stopped
me dead in the tracks. In comes Intakt to the rescue with a release
that is as satisfying as it is bound to become legendary. Recorded over
two days last May in a small Swiss studio, the pair has not played together
on a regular basis since early 80's, when their regular gigs and records
with the late bassist Peter Kowald were a thing of legends. Their reunion
at 2005's Total Music Meeting in Berlin [Barre Phillips sat in for Kowald]
brought them together again. Their brief tour in May last year cemented
their bond and gave perfect opportunity for this record to come about.
Some good things never change. If you recall the atmosphere and musical
language created on "Touch the Earth - Break The Shells",
you won't be disappointed by this disc. Minus Kowald, the duo retains
its vibrant edge, while playing loosely. Confidence still reigns supreme.
This isn't just some jam session. This is the real deal. While Smith
plays lots of vibrant melodies, best thing about his style is he knows
when to take it down a notch or two. It's the quiet, repetitive phrases
[oftentimes, just soft whispers] that get top marks. All the while,
Sommer's innovation lays in his ability to hold back. Never does he
attack his drum set with full fury or abandon. His golden moments come
when he too uses the minimal use of percussion to get maximum effect.
Just a roll on the snare or a gentle tap on the tom is all it takes
for the duo to get rolling and back into action. Smith has rarely sounded
better on flugelhorn than he does here. His hollers are revealing and
gently persuasive. Even though Smith uses some electronics on a few
of the tracks, he never utilizes these to their fullest. Rather, they're
used as sparse dashes of colouring. Ultimately, duo speaks a language
that is uniquely their very own. Take away Peter Kowald and the house
of cards still stands strong.
Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta, Poland, April 2007
Steinmetzger, Sonic, 3/2007
Clark , Jazzreview, GB, June 2007
Dutilh, Jazzman, Paris, June 2007
Rosenstein, Signal To Noise, USA, June 2007
Concerto, Wien, 6/7-07
Brass and drums make for
a seemingly ungainly duo, but when it’s Smith and Sommer fielding
the respective instruments the foreignness of the framework swiftly
dissipates. Recorded at a Swiss studio in the fall of last year, Wisdom
in Time brings the simple adage of its title to aural life. The pair
sounds deeply aware of the lineage that extends from Eldridge and Stoller
through Dixon and Oxley, bringing with them a collaborative connection
that is thirty years young. Sommer is one of the most melodic and orchestrally
attuned percussionists on the planet. His project choices are highly
selective and this date with Smith is no different, a session positioned
for success even before sticks strike skins and lips touch mouthpiece.
Sommer’s all-inclusive kit play commonly alleviates any pangs
arising from absent instruments, but in this particular case, a lingering
lacuna is palpable. The session carries both formal and extempore dedications
to deceased bassist Peter Kowald, with whom the duo worked with as trio.
Smith and Sommer achieve a beautiful union throughout the program, engaging
in at times near-extrasensory repartee, but it’s difficult not
to miss the presence of Kowald and reflect on the magnificence of the
trio’s earlier albums for FMP. Mirroring such a ruminative mood,
“A Sonic Voice Enclosed in Wind” opens almost like an invocational;
Smith’s muted bell spitting out crinkled notes and viscous smears
as Sommer shapes fluid accents on chimes, cymbals and snare. “Tarantella
Rusticana” moves the two into more song-based structures with
Sommer’s symphonic sensibilities given free reign through a series
of lush gong washes. His tuneful singing later in the piece weaves in
an out of Smith’s crenellated runs and undulating frame drum rhythms.
Smith also dusts off a small battery of electronics to further color
the music, holding back in the disc’s first half and waiting to
dip into his Milesean bag most fully on the luminous “Woodland
Trail to the Giants” and the sci-fi saturated “Rain Cycles”.
Throughout the set, Sommer shades with mallets, conches and woodblocks,
the peripheral percussion surrounding his kit just as crucial to the
pair’s shared concepts as the standard cymbals, snare and toms.
He even plays a bit of convincing vaudevillian harmonica on the coda
to the aforementioned “Cycles”. As is the Intakt credo,
the recording is crisp and vividly rendered with all the nooks and crevices
of the music plainly audible. Wherever his spirit now resides, Kowald
must be smiling at the musical camaraderie so in evidence between his
Derek Taylor, Bagatellen, June 2007
von Osterhausen, Jazzpodium, Stuttgart, Juni 2007
Which is not to say that
pure duo improvisations are impossible, just more difficult. Smith-Sommer
shows us how two true masters can make magic happen in improvisation.
In a way, Smith-Sommer is played by a ghost trio, since Wadada Leo Smith
and Gunter Baby Sommer have played many times before with the late great
bassist Peter Kowald filling out the band. One track here, “Bass-Star
Hemispheres,” is indeed dedicated to Kowald, and even for the
listener familiar with the trio’s two FMP recordings (Touch the
Earth and Break the Shells), Kowald’s presence is palpable. At
the 2005 Total Music Meeting, Smith and Sommer re-formed the trio with
Barre Phillips taking Kowald’s place. But in May 2006 the duo
decided to tour without a bass player, as a tribute to Kowald, and this
recording is the studio result of their series of performances in Germany
and Switzerland. As always, Sommer’s drumming is magical as well
as musical. He uses all of the drum kit, and rattles, shells and a gong
as well. Sometimes I think he could drum behind random street noise
and it would suddenly sound coherent. Smith has come over time to sound
so much like the mature Miles Davis in tone, and his melodic sense has
only grown richer and more beautiful. On “Woodland Trail to the
Giants” Smith alters and extends his horn with some very tasteful
live electronics, while Sommer plays a large wooden slit drum that sounds
like a deep and powerful marimba. The combination is enchanting and
beautiful, no matter how strange it sounds, and Smith-Sommer too is
an enchanting record, worth adding to your collection beside the recordings
this duo made with Kowald aboard.
Phillip McNally, Cadence, NY, USA, July 2007
CONSIGLIAT0 DA MUSICA
Inevitabilmente il pensiero corre a «Mu», realizzato quasi
quarant’anni fa da Don Cherry e Ed Blackwell. E non tanto perché
gli strumenti principali sono gli stessi,
ma perché l’afflato poetico delle due incisioni è
molto simile. In effetti Smith, la cui voce strumentale ricorda spesso
la fragile e poetica umanità di Cherry, non si divide come fece
il predecessore fra tante fonti sonore; e Sommer è meno interessato
di Blackwell a costruire intrecci ritmici: pensa piuttosto in termini
di colori e di sviluppi narrativi. Ma appunto, al di là delle
differenze, anche in questo lavoro si ascolta una complete communion
basata su una fortissima consonanza spirituale.
Merito forse anche del «terzo assente », Peter Kowald, che
aveva fatto incontrare lo statunitense e il tedesco e a lungo aveva
costituito con loro un trio. Scomparso quattro
anni prima di questa incisione, era stato a volte sostituito da Barre
Phillips; ma in questo caso l’assenza del suo strumento lascia
uno spazio ricco d’intensità (anche «Mu», pare,
avrebbe dovuto nascere in quartetto con Dewey Redman e Charlie Haden…).
Inutile scegliere fra i vari brani, che si snodano come una vera suite.
Da un certo momento in poi Smith deforma qua e là il suono del
suo strumento con degli artifizi elettronici, ma il risultato continua
a essere «naturale» in modo commovente; merito della pregnanza
assoluta nella scelta delle note (di entrambi), in cui tutto è
- Sessa, Musica Jazz, Italia, July 2007
More than 25 years have passed
since the late, great bassist Peter Kowald introduced trumpeter Wadada
Leo Smith to then East German drummer Günter Baby Sommer. The Chicago-Wuppertal-Dresden
axis of three idiosyncratic and free-minded improvisers toured Europe
and recorded one of the longstanding and seminal documents of European-American
free improvisation, Touch The Earth—Break The Shells (Intakt,
1997). Smith and Sommer meet again for another set of intimate duets
on Wisdom in Time, after touring in 2005 with bassist Barre Phillips
(Kowald's mentor). It’s a much more relaxed and peaceful atmosphere,
yet still aims to balance space and continuum, meditation and expression,
abstract and concrete.
It’s clear from the opening track, “Sonic Voice Inclosed
in the Sky,” that both Smith and Sommer have perfected their musical
language. Like the motto of the Association for the Advancement of Creative
Music (AACM) claims, “Ancient to the Future,” they feature
new sonic possibilities, incorporating electronics to their arsenal
of sounds. Sommer’s orchestral and super delicate approach completes
the serene spiritualism of Smith, and both demonstrate assured playing
and compassionate and imaginative interplay. It is quite a departure
from the dense and urgent textures they played with Kowald, but at the
same time this is a heartfelt homage to the irreplaceable bassist.
Smith and Sommer demonstrate their playful approach on “Tarantella
Rusticana,” an almost dance-based vibrating improvisation, on
the more strict “Gassire's Lute,” and on the swingy tribal
groove of “Old Times Roll - New Times Goal.” Both explore
space and slow weightless movement on “Pure Stillness,”
and new sonorities and colors when Smith introduces the electronic modular
system on “Woodland Trail to the Giants,” a beautiful piece
that references the soft sounds of the kalimba (African thumb piano)
and binds these sounds with the more futuristic modulated trumpet for
a passionate and slow dance. The use of electronics is much more apparent
on “Rain Cycles,” where Smith creates buzzing storms against
the fragmented touches of the skins by Sommer.
Their dedication to Kowald, “Bass-Star Hemispheres,” is
truly magical; a beautifully played meditative melody that unfolds gently.
The free, leisured and majestic phrases of Smith empower the quiet and
multi-voiced drumming of Sommer, producing intense sounds that dip deeply
into memory. The concluding piece, “A Silent Letter to Someone,”
is another fine demonstration of the multi-layered playing of these
two masters, abstract and calm, but also energetic, concrete and always
vital, passionate and thought-provoking. Magnificent.
Eyal Hareuveni, All About Jazz, July 3, 2007
The duo of Wadada Leo Smith
and Günter Baby Sommer is the remains of a trio pulled together
by the late bassist Peter Kowald some 30 years ago. The group recorded
two excellent albums - Touch the Earth and Break the Shells, later released
on a single CD by FMP - before drifting and ultimately losing their
founder in 2002. Wisdom in Time finds the two surviving members reconvened
as a duo in 2006, a year after an appearance at the 2005 Total Music
Meeting in Berlin with Barre Phillips joining them on bass. The recording,
however, shows that the group’s future does not depend on Kowald’s
chair being filled. More than just going from trio to duo, Wisdom in
Time shows Smith and Sommer stripped of smaller instruments and refined
on their primary ones. While the earlier recordings included thumb piano,
flute, bells and organ pipes, here Sommer sticks to percussion and Smith
adds only subtle electronic effects to his trumpet and flugelhorn. Where
“Break the Shells” was an appropriate title for their earlier
approach, “Wisdom in Time” is more than just a “music
through the ages” improv title; there’s smarts behind the
playing here. “Bass-Star Hemispheres” - dedicated to Kowald
and at 12 minutes the longest of the nine tracks - is particularly beautiful,
Smith’s ostinatos slowly unfolding against a pointillistic array
of drums, cymbals and gongs that, despite the breadth of tonalities,
work perfectly as a single voice.
Kurt Gottschalk, All About Jazz New York, September 2007
Bosshard, Jazz'n'more, Zürich, Oktober/November 2007
Ils étaient trois.
Des traces témoignent de leurs brûlures, C'était
au début des années 80. Souvenez-vous... l'axe ChicagoWuppertal-Dresde
venait de lâcher deux brûlots singuliers: Touch the Earth
et Break the Shells, tous deux enregistrés pour FMP. Puis, ils
s'éloignèrent. Puis, Peter les quitta. Nous quitta. En
2005, Wadada Leo Smith et Günter Baby Sommer participèrent
au Total Music Meeting. A leurs côtés: Monsieur Barre Phillips
Barre, celui qui écoute, cimente, rassure. Celui qui débroussailla
ce chemin maintes fois emprunté par nombre de contrebassistes
an-tis, Peter Kowald en tête.
Quelques mois après ce concert, Wadada et Günter se retrouvèrent
en studio. Il est donné d'emblée qu'avec ces deux-là,
il va falloir compter avec la douceur des fluides, avec la largeur et
la beauté de leur chant. Il va falloir accueillir le silence,
l'apprivoiser de ses tendresses entêtantes. Car voyezvous, ils
fuient les joutes et les duels comme peste et choléra. Ces deux-là
préfèrent caresser, écouter l'autre, sculpter des
mélodies et des rythmes déchirants de bonté et
d'enveloppements intimes (BassStar Hemispheres). Ils savent le berceau
noir de Y Afrique (Tarantella Rusticane, Woodland Trail to the Giants).
Ils savent adoucir la procession (Pure stillness), unifier leurs élans.
Ce que dit le silence, ils savent. Parfois, ils nous lâchent quelques-uns
de ces mystères, secrets intimes offerts à nos oreilles
Vous l'aurez compris, ce disque est un bloc de générosité
brute. Voyez-vous - et je m' en veux de l'écrire! - je crois
que ce disque se mérite.
Luc Bouquet, Improjazz, France, September 2007
Andriessen, Jazzmozaiek, Belgium, Dezember 2007
Nüchtern, Falter, Österreich, Nr. 17 / 2007
Wadada Leo Smith
"Since 2007, I see America changing, becoming not a divided multi-cultural
society, but a pluralistic cultural society where everybody has a chance.
Creative music announced the change in the '60s, but the music had been
democratic since New Orleans, with its collective improvisation., where
the collective had value and every individual had equal value. This
is a unique moment in this country's history, so now I call the music
I make American music."
It is a momentary shock to hear such pronouncements from Wadada Leo
Smith. The composer, multi-instrumentalist and philosopher/ educator
has never shied away from the subject of race relations, but now, his
assessment of the situation has changed. "It's obvious that over
half of the population of this country is thinking about change—that's
an overwhelmingly powerful number! Obama's election proves that structural
racism can be erased and that every member of society can make a historic
To hear Smith speak, to chase after each fleet idea as he moves on to
the next, is as exciting as following the trajectory of his own ceaselessly
inventive contributions to music. In sound and in speech, his energy
is boundless, informing each phrase with vitality and infectious vigor.
Yet, as with only the greatest musicians, there is a unity to his achievements,
a discernable path through myriad soundworlds he's created. Smith's
vision is not that of a simple "all men are brothers" unity;
rather, Coltrane's complex vision of unity, manifest most directly from
Ascension onward, is a better model, not to mention the pioneering work
of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM),
of which Smith has been a member since 1966. However, even these models
cannot encompass the totality of his vision, which is a product of his
starkly individual approach to music making, in both the improvisational
and compositional realms. As with Schoenberg's articulation of the Musical
Idea, Smith believes that creation begins with an atomistic moment of
inspiration. "If you allow memory to be stripped away, you realize
the immense power of a single moment, which becomes the seed for all
that follows. Then, through reflection, your experience as an artist
will show you how to proceed."
Smith came to a form of this realization quite early; he began composing
when he was 12, the day he got his trumpet. "I knew four notes,"
he now smiles and yet he remembers refusing to allow what he did not
know to keep him from composing. "Tradition can kill you if you
let it. A person does not need to know everything about a tradition
to proceed. In fact, too much knowledge can inhibit individual growth.
Look at Coltrane—he needed to change, because he was a transitional
artist, but those changes were difficult for him because of his knowledge
of the tradition. He proved that he could erase some of that knowledge
so that the new creation could occur."
Smith's unique ideas concerning the many facets of an individual contribution
were solidified, dramatically, when he joined the AACM. "You had
to play in one of Muhal [Richard Abrams]'s groups and at some point
during your first concert, all of the musicians would walk offstage
and leave you up there by yourself. You'd hear them making comments
about you as you play and this ritual was to dispel any fear of making
an artistic statement. They'd drift back one by one, but not until you'd
passed the test of making art."
Such a baptism by fire leaves its mark and Smith has spent his life
honing the craft born of his initial artistic visions. With "The
Bells," recorded in January of 1967, he began to craft his musical
language, a multi-tiered notational and performative system called Ankhrasmation,
about which he has written extensively. He developed a unique language
that confronts issues of rhythm, the sound/silence dichotomy, velocity
and improvisation using pictographic notation which, in combination
with standard notation, allows the composer to dictate certain activities
while retaining the artist's individual voice. The language was refined
and expanded while Smith sojourned in Paris, exploring various world
cultures and musics. The results of this research can be heard on Smith's
first Kabell recording, a solo effort. A track such as "Creative
Music 1" demonstrates the sound/silence relationships that are
at the heart of early Ankhrasmation's construction.
It was then Smith's goal to hone his language to be as specific but
as inclusive as possible, necessitating many more years of research
and development. Much of the work was done in solitude. Originally,
the reason for Smith's relative seclusion was practical. "It was
really quite simple—I stayed in Connecticut for ten years. While
my colleagues toured and recorded constantly all over the planet, I
played and worked at home. What happens when you're playing in your
house? You develop. You grow, because you have to make yourself grow;
you can't become lethargic or displaced, you become even more excited!"
During that period of introspection and continued research, Smith refused
to request performing opportunities, focusing instead on his ensemble,
New Dalta Akhri, whose membership included Pheeroan akLaff, Wes Brown,
Oliver Lake, Dwight Andrews and Anthony Davis. "We had access to
an office at Yale because Dwight Andrews was getting his doctorate there.
We'd rehearse every week, six or seven hours at a stretch. We needed
to do that to grow, because the only way to keep a band from getting
stale is to introduce new music. I'd bring new compositions all the
time, as if each rehearsal was a performance. These long hours of rumination
and expansion led to the first version of "Reflectativity,"
recorded in 1974; it's an astonishing demonstration of telepathic group
interplay. From the first notes emanating from Smith's trumpet, the
title seems absolutely appropriate. In the liner notes to Tzadik's reissue
of Smith's Kabell recordings (Kabell Years: 1971-1979), Henry Kaiser
writes of Smith as a listener and his reactions can be heard as the
ensemble enters and reacts to his first multifarious gestures. Smith's
notes lengthen, but the longer tones are complemented by an increased
presence of silence, indicative of Ankhrasmation's development. Later
evolutions of the language can be heard on Spirit Catcher, recorded
for Nessa, and on the beautifully translucent trio album Mass On the
World, released on Moers Music.
Yet, the ideas inherent in Smith's approach to these pieces of music
inform the way he interacts with every group with which he performs.
"Every ensemble is like a planet in the cosmos and every leader
of an ensemble has a master plan about creation. By creation, I mean
every aspect of how that group performs, travels and interacts."
Yet, it becomes clear that the way in which Smith confronts each moment
of a performance bears remarkable similarity to the way in which he
first confronted composition. Of soloing, he says, "When you pick
up your instrument, there should not be a preconceived set of information
inside of you. Even though you may have knowledge before you play, you
proceed as if there is no future and no past—there is only now."
Smith is not proposing that the soloist should be detached from the
music; in fact, he hears every note while maintaining a distance in
which his focus is on intuition and creativity.
It is this philosophy of active stasis that informs every note played
by the Golden Quartet, a group that has been through several incarnations
and which will be performing at Symphony Space this month. A quintet
version performed several pieces, involving various uses of Ankhrasmation,
at last summer's Vision Festival; the group alternated long sweeping
passages of sparse pointillism and supreme reflectativity with blistering
forays into electric jazz, which Smith is eager to separate from what
is commonly called jazz-rock fusion. "We're not playing rock and
roll," he asserts; "Yes, there is influence from rock in what
we do, but influence does not define the product. If you put Golden
Quartet music beside most any fusion, you'll hear big differences."
Certainly, distortion and electricity are present in the group's sound,
but the broad sweeping gestures, punctuated by sharp shocks and dialogic
rebounds, put the music in a different space. Vijay Iyer, Pheeroan akLaff
and John Lindberg are all veteran improvisers and their diverse and
pan-idiomatic contributions reflect Smith's emphasis on the individual/collective
dialectic. Judge for yourself, as the Vision performance will be released
on Cuneiform in September as part of a double CD called Spirit Dimensions,
along with music from Smith's electric ensemble Organics.
The Cuneiform set will be one of several important Smith projects to
emerge this year. The pioneering Nessa label has just reissued the wildly
experimental but blues-inflected homage album Procession of the Great
Ancestry, where Smith pays tribute to musicians of the past; Tzadik
is also set to release America, a series of duos with Golden Quartet
alumnus drummer Jack DeJohnette. Smith is also busy working on five
new compositions for his Silver Orchestra, the ensemble on 2004's Lake
Biwa. These are to be premiered in Symphony Space in 2010 and Smith
has just received a much deserved Guggenheim grant to fund the project.
These projects are simply continuations of an astonishing series of
timbral explorations that began with "The Bells" over 40 years
ago, Smith's well-nurtured artistic spirit overcoming the obstacles
imposed by neglect and indifference, leading him to the many opportunities
of the present and, doubtless, to an equally inventive future.
Marc Medwin, All
About Jazz, USA, May 24, 2009
Gonçalo Falcão, Jazz.pt Magazine, July/August 2011, Portugal
Article about Wadada Leo Smith, Chris Searle, Morning Star, April 21, 2015
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