Musical iconoclasts Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser were way ahead of the popular consciousness when it came to paying tribute to Miles Davis' pioneering electric bands of the early-to-mid 1970s. Kaiser's involvement in this project is no surprise. He's an avowed long-term fan of Davis' mid-1970s recordings and cites Pete Cosey's work on these recordings as a seminal influence on his own playing. At first, I found Wadada Leo Smith's involvement a complete surprise, if not a little perplexing. Affiliated with the AACM since the early 70s, Smith has worked extensively with avant-garde musicians such as Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Davis to name just a few. His work as a leader, while incredibly diverse, showed few, if any, tendencies towards electric jazz-rock fusion. Yet, from the first note he plays, Wadada's profound understanding of Davis' groundbreaking 70s oeuvre is palpable. As a trumpeter, he is able to evoke the spirit of Miles without ever imitating him. As a composer, he has the artistic integrity and musical guts to honor the past while extending some of Miles' most important concepts into a 21st Century musical setting.
In the music press, much (perhaps too much) has been made of the need for American jazz musicians to preserve traditional jazz sounds. Never mind that the truest tradition of jazz is one of constant change and rebirth, many use this historical preservation imperative as an excuse to simply regurgitate the past over and over until the listening public is inundated with CDs titled 'So-And-So Plays The Standards.' In fact, what jazz really needs to remain relevant in the 21st Century is original compositions, and a deeper, cross-cutting understanding of the myriad ways that contemporary musical styles relate to jazz and blues. Bay-Area saxophonist and composer Howard Wiley accomplishes this and then some on "12 Gates To The City," where he explores musical traditions – both past and present - with a suite of extended, poly-stylistic compositions that draw inspiration from myriad facets of the vast African American artistic legacy.
Agogic is, in some ways, a musical homecoming celebration for Seattle natives Vu and D'Angelo (whose work with Matt Wilson, Human Feel and Kurt Rosenwinkel is nothing short of remarkable) following extended stays in Boston and New York City. Agogic's other two members – bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Evan Woodle – are products of Seattle's very fertile jazz and experimental music scene. With this young and extremely capable rhythm section in tow, Vu and D'Angelo are free to explore all sorts of stylistic variations and intersections, unfettered by big city music politics and the ensuing creative burnout.