Album Review: America's National Parks by Wadada Leo Smith
Great, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
A seven-note riff from Lindberg introduces "New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1918" (the year it was founded as a French colony). While the bassist's pattern makes use of the blues, this is not an uptempo celebration of NOLA's musical heritage. Instead, it takes the myth of Buddy Bolden -- an unrecorded yet legendary jazz trumpet player -- as its muse.
Though trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is a leading maestro of abstraction, he loves a straightforward concept as much as anyone else. Over the last decade, he’s composed The Great Lakes Suites, as well as the expansive Civil Rights-themed project Ten Freedom Summers (which drew from avant-jazz and modern-classical languages). For his 2016 album with pianist Vijay Iyer, Smith wrote a tribute to the African American contralto Marian Anderson.
When a conceptual theme is applied to a musical work, regardless of genre, it puts a focus of intent that affects the composer and performers but the listener as well. It's worked very well for the Who (Tommy), Sonny Rollins (Freedom Suite), Diamanda Galas (Defixiones: Will and Testament) and many others. Wadada Smith's focus on America's National Parks is an unusual one, but quite inspired in combining the considerations, both physical and political, that have informed humanity's corralling of nature.
The American landscape seems engraved upon so many of our hearts and minds that it can feel a promised new world for those of us who have never even set foot upon the continent. I don't really know what Yellowstone National Park looks like in reality, whether the springs, geysers and mountains within that territory match up to the audio-visual simulations from which I feel I know it. But I do feel I know it.
Wadada Leo Smith – America’s National Parks (Cuneiform)English classical composer Gustav Holst never left the gravitational pull of Earth in devising his epochal odes to The Planets. In a comparable gambit, trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith hasn’t physically visited all of the vistas and environments that serve as inspiration of America’s National Parks, but his compositions still seek and largely succeed in transposing their collective splendor to sound. As with earlier grand scale projects like The Great Lakes Suite and Ten Freedom Summers, Smith prefers to focus on the ideation of place and import of history rather than concrete manifestations of the same.
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