Wadada Leo Smith: Kulture Jazz (ECM 1507)

Wadada Leo Smith
Kulture Jazz

Wadada Leo Smith trumpet, fluegelhorn, koto, mbira, harmonica, bamboo notch flute, percussion, vocal
Recorded October 1992, Hardstudios, Winterthur
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake

To characterize Wadada Leo Smith as a genuinely musical soul would be a gross understatement. Having shunned the spotlight that might so easily have blinded him, he continues to draw thread after thread between the world’s many shadows and the sustaining fire within (if you haven’t heard his 4-hour magnum opus, Ten Freedom Summers, you don’t know what you’re missing). We have Manfred Eicher to thank for first bringing Smith to ECM among the company of Dwight Andrews, Bobby Naughton, Charlie Haden, Lester Bowie, and Kenny Wheeler on 1979’s Divine Love, and further Steve Lake for bringing the label’s touch a second time to this subtly profound solo meditation on the energies that make the world turn. Wrapped in the strains of “Don’t You Remember,” which depicts with mbira and voice a traveler’s view of atrocity and victory, we find ourselves swept in less than four minutes through a tide of earthen histories and cotton-scented tribulations. To express such depth with such minimal means speaks not only to the talents of Smith as a musician, but also to the inherent power of the individual to affect change at the galactic level. We feel this power in the visceral bite of his trumpet solos. The muted “Song Of Humanity (Kanto Pri Homaro),” to choose but one, speaks the language of those same celestial energies, climbing down ladders of starlight into the pitted chambers of our hearts, where the strains of a koto in “Mississippi Delta Sunrise (for Bobbie)” and “Seven Rings Of Light In The Hola Trinity” intimately skirt the edge of a bandwagon’s trail, popping heritage like candy. “Fire-Sticks, Chrysanthemums And Moonlight (for Harumi)” is the album’s central ceremony (one, if the reader will allow a comparison, in the vein of Keith Jarrett’s Spirits). It haunts coves turned red by ancestral blood, into which Smith dips a fluted brush. He spreads his aural calligraphy in the fire of dawn and begins to fashion from it a love letter to those who have given him courage and life: through the celebratory braid of trumpeted strands in “Louis Armstrong Counter-Pointing,” the forested song of “The Healer’s Voyage On The Sacred River (for Ayl Kwel Armah),” and the porous dronescape that is “The Kemet Omega Reigns (for Billie Holiday),” we come to know the spirit of a friend, lover, and acolyte. And in the unitary transmissions of “Love Supreme (for John Coltrane)” and “Uprising (for Jessie and Yvonne)” Smith shields an essential and unwavering flame.

Kulture Jazz is a body of dedication with two extroversions for every intro. Unafraid to marvel at the rawness of creation, Smith plays as one might write in a diary or sketch on newsprint, sanding the figurines of his past into a rounded family of novel ideas. An album of such sparseness may not appeal to everyone, but with such indelible spiritual truth suffused into every moment, how can we keep ourselves from adding our adoration to its melodious font?

Truth, crushed to the earth, shall rise again.

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