Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers
Wadada Leo Smith
Ten Freedom Summers
Jazz music and the Civil Rights Movement in America have moved on parallel tracks from the 20th century up until the present. Freedom Suite (Riverside, 1958) by saxophonist Sonny Rollins, We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite (Candid, 1960) by drummer Max Roach and also Attica Blues (Implulse, 1972) by saxophonist Archie Shepp are all strong statements that still retain their vital relevance and serve as period piece reminders of the way things were and suggested what the possibilities could be. Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers may perhaps be counted as one of the most expansive musical statements on Civil Rights in the 21st century. It tastefully reflects on a period of over 50 years of a struggle that is often difficult to capture in art.
Smith has been quoted in preparation for this release as having said, "Ten Freedom Summers is one of my life's defining works." The trumpeter's extraordinary musical ambitions, abilities and personal passion have been signaling the way for this masterwork, particularly over the past decade. Musically, the release of Lake Biwa (Tzadik, 2005) featured his Silver Orchestra and displayed his abilities in composing large works, putting together and conducting a top notch band while infusing cellos and violins in the four suites. Thematically, in 2008 his Golden Quartet had rerecorded and revived one of its previous compositions on Tabligh (Cuneiform, 2008) titled after and dedicated to Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks (referenced again for a third time here on Disc 2: "Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days"). In 2009, Smith released 2 more CDs pushing the envelope, the first a duet CD with drummer Jack DeJohnette, America (Tzadik, 2009) that first presented "America Parts 1,2,3" (which is performed again here in group form on Disc 4). The second release was a double live CD release of two different groups on Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform, 2009) that featured the song "Angela Davis" in honor of the political activist.
Smith brings forth his full say on the Civil Rights Movement in four discs through his golden quintet and the Southwest Chamber Music. The electric guitars and electronics that Smith has used on his last few releases are all set aside. While Smith composes all of the pieces, he usually conducts his Golden Quartet / Quintet through hand signals to work the pieces in real time. For the music written for the nine piece orchestra he goes for a different affect by having Grammy Award-winning conductor Jeff von der Schmidt guide the music.
The core of the music is performed by the Golden Quartet that spans out to be a Golden Quintet whenever the two drummers Susie Ibarra and Pheeroan akLaff are both in play. Veteran bassist John Lindberg, who has been with Smith since the passing of Malachi Favors back in 2004, plays up to his usual high standard, as evidenced on the very punchy solo introduction to "Buzzsaw: The Myth of a Free Press." Pianist Anthony Davis, who has worked with the trumpeter over the last several decades, performs some of his best work providing a melodic bridge between the group and the Southwest Chamber Music when they appear together on songs like "Medgar Evers: A Love- Voice of a Thousand Years' Journey for Liberty and Justice." The Southwest Chamber Music players play without the Golden Quintet on "Black Church" where the musicians keep an overall continuity and soundtrack feel not very different from The Golden Quintet. The trumpeter and leader himself plays at the peak of his powers at age 70. Smith's incorporation of the echoing atmospheric aesthetic and tone of Miles Davis in his sound over the last 15 years is now another part of his very own overall recognizable and distinct style. Smith's sense of human spirituality serves as a grounding point in his approach of the controversial themes on Ten Freedom Summers. The somber mood of the tunes mirror the song titles appropriately as Smith spares no punches with names such as "Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless," " Freedom Summer: Voter Registration, Acts of Compassion and Empowerment, 1964," The Little Rock Nine: A Force for Desegregation in Education, 1957" and adds mention to another milestone that resonates with many "September 11th, 2001: A Memorial."
Ten Freedom Summers is a historical and artistic high landmark achievement for Wadada Leo Smith. The thematic content and coverage of the Civil Rights era up until the present comes across as very intensely emotional and personal. The several hours of music contained in these four discs should be an absolute indulgence and joy for fans while providing a challenging welcome for newcomers to this end of the creative universe.
Tracks: CD1: Dred Scott, 1857; Malik Al Shabazz and the People of the Shahada; Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless; Thurgood Marshall and Brown Vs. Board of Education: A Dream of Equal Education, 1954; John F. Kennedy's New Frontier And The Space Age, 1960. CD2: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days; Black Church; Freedom Summer: Voter Registration, Acts Of Compassion and Empowerment, 1964; Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. CD3: The Freedom Riders Ride; Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice of a Thousand Years' Journey for Liberty and Justice; The D.C. Wall: A War Memorial for All Times; Buzzsaw: The Myth of a Free Press; The Little Rock Nine: A Force for Desegregation in Education, 1957. CD4: America, Pts. 1, 2 & 3; September 11th, 2001: A Memorial; Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, 1964; Democracy; Martin Luther King, Jr.: Memphis, The Prophecy.
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: composer, trumpet; Anthony Davis: piano; John Lindberg: bass; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Susie Ibarra: drums; Alison Bjorkedal: harp; Jim Foschia: clarinet; Lorenz Gamma: violin; Peter Jacobson: cello; Larry Kaplan: flute; Jan Karlin: viola; Tom Peters: bass; Lynn Vartan: percussion; Shalini Vijayan: violin.