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Wadada Leo Smith's Organic_Heart's Reflections

 

'Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden' opens with the funky, loping half-shuffle of Pheeroan akLaff's drums and John Lindberg's bizarrely fuzzed-out electric acoustic bass. Taking a few cues from “Agartha”-period Miles, this surreal 20-plus minute jam is a gripping sonic adventure that launches excellent solos by Smith, Michael Gregory (here in the gonzo Pete Cosey role), Angelica Sanchez (on Wurlitzer Electric piano), and Brandon Ross.

The remainder of the first disc is taken up by the first eight sections of the monumental 'Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification.' Loaded with thematic material, extended improvisations, and electronically enhanced avant-funk, there's nevertheless a palpable sense of narrative and musical logic. The starting point, 'Dhikr of Radiant Hearts, Part 1,' is a telepathic duet between akLaff and Smith. 'Part 2' opens with unaccompanied electric piano that projects an almost Zen-like, sense of contemplation. Returning to aggressive electric funk on 'The Majestic Way,' guitarists Josh Gerowitz and Michael Gregory use a variety of approaches – from wall-of-fuzz to clean, jazzy single note runs - during their collective solo. The laptops and Stephanie Smith's violin make their first appearance on 'Ritual Purity and Love, Part 1,' an angular, aleatory piece that wouldn't be out of place on a Karlheinz Stockhausen record.

The Suite continues on the second disc with 'Sisila,' akLaff's expansive drum solo, which flows into 'The Well: From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water, Part 1.' The latter is a remarkable, shimmying slab of avant-funk by the trio of Smith, Sverrisson, and akLaff. Yet, none of the three play out of any recognizable 'funk' bag. It's all quite understated. There are no quotes, no licks – just pure expression. 'Part 2,' is another dramatic about-face, with Smith's stark trumpet soloing over the laptops' chilly, alien textures. 'Toni Morrison' continues in much the same vein. Eventually the laptops give way to delicate, jazzy rhythm, and Sanchez gets an extended solo spot that proves to be one of this set's highlights.

The final track is also the most challenging. A step away from the subterranean funk that dominates much of “Heart's Reflections,” 'Leroy Jenkins' Air Steps' starts out as a swirling maelstrom of free improvisation that settles down into a rocking funk groove reminiscent of early '70s Santana. After a brief breakdown, the theme reappears and different groupings of musicians improvise over and within the structure – breaking it down and building it back up in some quite unusual and unexpected ways.

To be able to take and hold someone's attention for one full-length CD is a real accomplishment. Wadada Leo Smith and Organic go twice as far on “Heart's Reflection” - this is one of those rare 2-CD sets that contain zero musical filler. In fact, there is so much going on here that you may need a half-dozen or so listens before it really sinks in. Epic, and highly recommended.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Wadada Leo Smith's Organic
  • CD Title: Heart's Reflections
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2011
  • Record Label: Cuneiform
  • Tracks: CD1: Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden (for Don Cherry), Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification for Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts Parts 1 & 2, The Majestic Way, The Shaykh as far as Humaythira, Spiritual Wayfarers, Certainty, Ritual Purity and Love Parts 1 & 2) CD2: Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification for Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (Sisila, The Well: From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water Parts 1 & 2) Toni Morrison: The Black Hole - Sagittarius A* - Conscience and Epic Memory, Leroy Jenkins' Air Steps
  • Musicians: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet, electric trumpet), Michael Gregory (electric guitars), Pheeroan akLaff (drums), Brandon Ross (electric guitar), John Lindberg (acoustic bass, electric acoustic bass), Skuli Sverrisson (electric bass, 6-string bass), Angelica Sanchez (piano, Wurlitzer electric piano), Josh Gerowitz (electric guitar), Lamar Smith (electric guitar), Stephanie Smith (violin), Casey Anderson (alto saxophone), Casey Butler (tenor saxophone), Mark Trayle (laptop), Charlie Burgin (laptop)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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