Wadada Leo Smith: Divine Love (ECM 1143)

Wadada Leo Smith
Divine Love

Wadada Leo Smith trumpet, fluegelhorn, steel-o-phone, gongs, percussion
Dwight Andrews alto flute, bass clarinet , tenor saxophone, triangles, mbira
Bobby Naughton vibraharp, marimba, bells
Charlie Haden double-bass
Lester Bowie trumpet
Kenny Wheeler trumpet
Recorded September 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Wadada Leo Smith’s Divine Love is one of ECM’s most tantalizing jewels, the result of many years ignoring the label’s advances. I can only speculate this was because the immediacy of his craft might have been adversely affected by the interventions of any svelte postproduction. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, Eicher and company gave this effort all the space it needed to breathe, for breath is precisely what this imaginative session is all about.

Since 1970, Smith has been utilizing two systems of musical production: a) rhythm-units, which balance every note produced with an equivalent unit of silence, and b) ahkreanvention, an amalgamated method of “scored improvisation.” The album’s two bookends exemplify the former, while the latter animates the single piece at their center. This structure gilds the recording with a cyclical feel that deepens with every listen. Drifting through the waves of mallet percussion (courtesy of Bobby Naughton) of the title track, each cry materializes as a vessel of indeterminate origin until we lose ourselves in the eddy of “Tastalun,” where muted trumpets (Lester Bowie and Kenny Wheeler join in here) streak the music’s inner language with deep gashes of spontaneous intent. With “Spirituals: The Language Of Love,” we return to where the album began, sailing forth into waters at once opaque and teeming with unseen light.

While Smith’s presence is felt throughout in his wavering horns and percussion, the alto flute of Dwight Andrews is for me the album’s soul. Smith’s pensive collaboration tries not to evoke beauty, but rather to find in the act of invocation an air of repose. Anyone expecting grooves and catchy tunes will find no foothold. This is a long confession spun from discomforting lucidity. In this trying melody called life, divine love is the truest note.

0413512-R1-E002
From left to right: Bobby Naughton, Wadada Leo Smith, Dwight Andrews
Stuttgart, West Germany, September 1978
(Photo by Fridel Pluff)

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