Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Alison Bjorkedal (harp); Lorenz Gamma, Shalini Vijayan (violin); Jan Karlin (viola); Peter Jacobson (cello); Larry Kaplan (flute); Jim Foschia (clarinet); Anthony Davis (piano); Pheeroan akLaff, Susie Ibarra (drums); Lynn Vartan (percussion); Southwest Chamber Music, Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet, Golden Quintet.
Liner Note Authors: Dorothy Cotton; Matthew Sumera.
Recording information: Zipper Hall, The Colburn School, Los Angeles, CA (11/04/2011-11/06/2011).
Editor: Jeff Evens.
Photographers: Michael Jackson ; Warren K. Leffler; Steve Gunther; Dorothy Cowfield.
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. It travels through jazz, contemporary classical music, and modernist improvisation. It was recorded in three days. The compositions are organized in three principal sections "Defining Moments in America," "What Is Democracy," and "Freedom Summers." It was begun in 1977 with "Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice of a Thousand Years' Journey for Liberty and Justice," written for violinist Leroy Jenkins. It was worked on for nearly two decades before being completed in a flurry of activity between 2009 and 2011. Though sprawling and ambitious, Smith's compositions are focused, yet they do allow real freedom of expression for the individual players. The overarching theme of Ten Freedom Summers never overwhelms its content. Individual works don't follow in chronological order, but are organized more organically, allowing for an ease of flow despite the project's grand scale. With a couple of exceptions, the jazz group and the classical ensemble perform separately, and the contrast is beautifully complementary. One exception is on the suite-like "Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless." The Golden Quartet begins by improvising along a lyric frame, before Southwest Chamber Music enters. Its cellist engages in counterpoint with Lindberg before the GQ drops out, only to return later in full roar as the strings shimmer, fade, then sprint back into the fray until the tune closes with emotional resonance and power. Most of these pieces are long, ranging between nine and 20 minutes. But Smith has been composing for the Golden Quartet and Quintet groups for decades, and has often worked with strings. His musical language moves between these two formations with ease and grace, always achieving his stated aim. He is able to channel each group dynamic, whether in formally composed music, or structured or spontaneous improvisation to articulate a gorgeous narrative flow. As such, Ten Freedom Summers is an encounter with music as much as it is a statement about, and the analysis of, history. The story offered in sound is as emotionally and powerfully resonant, as profound as any written account, because for Smith, this story is immediate; born not of mere topical reflection but of personal and spiritual experience. His commitment is total. Ten Freedom Summers is his magnum opus; it belongs in jazz's canonical lexicon with Duke Ellington's Black Brown & Beige and Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. ~ Thom Jurek
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