Recorded October 1992 at Hardstudios, Winterthur
The ECM folks do much better by Wadada Leo Smith than ever before with this solo recording, a true masterwork of its kind and one of the purest, most enlightening demonstrations of the connected natures of folk, blues, jazz, and creative music. That Smith is the man to do this is certainly no surprise; he laid it all down in print years before this release in his self-published books and liner notes. But the way he does it, with so much grace and style (and with the excellent production by Steve Lake), really results in a totally polished statement. It is a deep and rich recording, with Smith playing in a manner that incorporates both versatility and the genius of simplicity, sometimes all in one note. Not just for fans of "out" music, this is one to pull out when you are trying to get friends to go beyond their Phish records.
All Music Guide
"Jazz is a spiritual music," says trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. "Its expression, identity, goal, and aim is to liberate people from bondage. It takes place in the act of living. It's not something hidden away in the mountains, in the trees, or in some monastery. It's activated inside one's life with a direct link to God. Through the music, it's directed straight to the listener without any intermediary,"
Smith's latest effort, Kulture of Jazz(ECM), marks his return to a solo format which he began in 1971.
Two years after the release of Divine Love (ECM) in 1978, with guests Charlie Haden, Lester Bowie, and Kenny Wheeler, Smith won Down Beat magazine's award for trumpet in the Talent Deserving Wider Recognition category. Shunning publicity and recording independently, Smith fell into relative obscurity despite excellent recordings throughout the '80s on Kabell, Chief, and other small international labels.
In the '80s, Smith began to study Rastafarianism, and its spiritual principle can be seen in his essay/poem, "Kulture of Jahzz," enclosed in the Kulture of Jazz CD. Smith's first recording to reflect these new insights and direction was Rastafari(Sackville) in 1983. With Human Rights (Gramm/Kabell) in 1 986, Smith began to incorporate reggae's deep structures into an electric band. His cassette, Jah Music(Kabell), continued in this vein, but with greater political awareness of the injustices occurring throughout the African diaspora.
Smith's selection of instruments expresses his notion of a jazz idiom. Many turning points in the history of jazz have come with the development of instruments, from Jelly Roll Morton's replacement of the clarinet with the saxophone to Duke Ellington's introduction into his orchestra of ban sax, bass clarinet, and harp. Coltrane used the African mbira on Om. Gillespie brought Latin sounds to the fore in jazz with Chano Pozo's conga. The AACM invented their own percussion instruments and humorously employed toy instruments. Trumpeter Marvin Hannibal Peterson has played a Japanese koto.
"People have been able to introduce new dimensions of sound and new concepts through instruments," says Smith. What's important is how something's being said and the direction it takes."
On Kulture of Jazz, Smith imaginatively trumpet, flugelhorn, bamboo flute, koto, mbira, harmonica, percussion, and the human voice. "I use these instruments in a different way, not as background or texture, but as main instruments," he says. With the pan-cultural instrumentation on this new release, his spiritual expression becomes even more profoundly beautiful.
"Spirituality is how humans cultivate themselves in the highest realm," says Smith. "The religious content has to do with returning to the source. It's a realignment. The religious, spiritual, and even the mundane in our tradition can't be dissected. It's all one experience. The human is the center of the universe in its spiritual context."
Smith, 52, grew up in Leland, Mississippi, where he played trumpet with his stepfather, Alex "Little Bill" Wallace, a blues guitarist and singer. Charlie Patton's gospel-inflected blues later became the structural principle underlying Smith's rhythm-unit theory, which dealt with duration of sound, its compound elements, and silence. Leo started on mellophone, but soon switched to trumpet, preferring its brighter sound. Between working in a local marching band and stage band at school, Smith found time to interpret Ellington's "Mood Indigo" and "Satin Doll" in an orchestra, Smith got his first professional gig, though, in a blues band led by Smoky Joe.
Jazz has always been a universal musical vibration for Smith, encompassing the recorded sounds he heard as a youth by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Fats Navarro, Harry James, Ellington, Coltrane, Monk, and Nat "King" Cole, to traditional African and Asian string music,Indonesian gamelan, and Haitian and Brazilian percussion, all of which he later studied at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
As a member of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Smith appeared on landmark recordings by Anthony Braxton and with the Creative Construction Company (a band that included Muhal Richard Abrams, Braxton, Steve McCall, Richard Davis, and Leroy Jenkins).Through the same connection, he began his solo and group work with New Dalta Ahkri and tours with Abrams' Experimental Orchestra, which just last summer reunited at the Verona Jazz Festival in Italy.
During his AACM years, Smith began increasingly to draw on the European classical tradition in his compositions, a trend he continued during his early years in Connecticut, from 1971 to the mid-'80s, under the auspices of his Creative Musicians Improvisers Forum. Now gaining the recognition he has long deserved, Smith is embarking on many projects that may present him to a new and receptive audience.
Just before our conversation, Smith had returned from Europe, where he performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival with Peter Kowald's Global Village. Last fall, Smith was selected by committee to assume the newly established Dizzy Gillespie Chair at Cal Arts. He will do a summer 1 994 tour of Europe with Sabu Toyozumi and bassist Leonard Jones, an early AACM member. Smith also plans an ECM-sponsored tour in the States and Europe to promote Kulture of Jazz, He hopes to record next summer with a 10-piece ensemble consisting of rotating players. He also appears on saxist David Bindman's and poet Tyrone Henderson's forthcoming Strawman@ Dance. Like many musicians of his generation, Smith has been building up a creative backlog that is ready to make its way to performance venues worldwide, now that the opportunities of public expression have become available.
- Robert Hicks
Jaziz Magazine, Jan.,1995