Album Review: Ten Freedom Summers by Wadada Leo Smith
Fantastic, Based on 5 Critics
PopMatters - 100 Based on rating 10/10
All those descriptions of “monumental” make sense. Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers is first of all BIG: a four-disc 19-track monument to the Civil Rights movement, performed by the 70-year-old Smith on trumpet along with the nine-member Southwest Chamber Music ensemble and the latest incarnation of Smith’s Golden Quartet (or Quintet, if two people are drumming). Whenever he can corral them all to perform the thing live, the concert lasts three nights and covers audiences with heaps of music: free improv, modal jazz grooves, and classical composition including (why not?) a string quartet movement.
Wadada Leo Smith spent nearly 35 years composing Ten Freedom Summers, his massive tribute to the Civil Rights Movement. These 19 compositions address the era's milestones between 1954 and 1964: they celebrate its places, heroes, and motivations, and they remember its martyrs. These four discs contain over five hours of music. It is performed by his Golden Quartet and Golden Quintet, with the composer on trumpet, pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg, and drummers Pheeroan akLaff and Susie Ibarra, as well as the nine-member, Los Angeles-based contemporary classical group Southwest Chamber Music under the direction of Jeff von der Schmidt.
Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith, the 70-year-old American trumpeter, composer and teacher, has spent more than three decades composing the four-and-a-half hours of music on this set, inspired by the freedom struggles of African-Americans since the 19th century. Smith's London appearances with local musicians this week have been all-improv encounters, but the huge work on these recordings (premiered in Los Angeles over three evenings last October) join the trumpeter's exciting small band with pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg and drummers Pheeroan akLaff and Susie Ibarra, and Southeast Chamber Music's nine-piece classical ensemble. These variously spiky and solemn pieces shift through Miles Davis-like muted-horn slow-burns, a loose, Art Ensemble of Chicago feel on Thurgood Marshall and Brown v Board of Education (the titles often name key historical episodes), romantic classical strings swirls on Black Church, and rugged, almost swing episodes such as The Freedom Riders Ride.
An epic work from the veteran trumpeter, deserving of classic status. Daniel Spicer 2012 Ten Freedom Summers truly deserves to be described as an epic work: 19 pieces across four CDs, encompassing more than four hours of music, composed by Wadada Leo Smith over the last 34 years. If it weren’t for the fact that the prolific 70-year-old trumpeter shows absolutely no sign of slowing down, it would be tempting to call it the work of a lifetime.
For trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith, the four-CD Ten Freedom Summers is one of his "life's defining works." Within the opening moments of "Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days," his justification for making such a statement becomes palpably clear; its deeply felt statement fully engages Smith's Golden Quintet. Its terse, striking theme leads to a visceral trumpet solo elevated by dual drummers Susie Ibarra and Pheeroan akLaff, followed by the impassioned, rippling piano of Anthony Davis. Over 34 years of composition are distilled into 19 pieces, some by the quintet, some played by Southwest Chamber Music, a nine-piece "classical" ensemble.