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Spiritual Dimensions

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Album Review

Like his fellow life-long colleagues in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, trumpeter and philosopher Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith has become a living embodiment of the intelligent, honorable, imaginative disciplines so cleanly articulated in the teachings of Muhal Richard Abrams; theirs is a crystal-clear spiritual ethic that can and does transform the open-hearted. Smith's profoundly expressive trumpeting is inseparable from the modern tradition established by Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Baikida E.J. Carroll, and the latter-day electrified Miles Davis. On the album Spiritual Dimensions, released by Cuneiform Records in 2009, Smith leads two ensembles in a series of sound rituals which are intuitively generated and collectively sustained. The first half of the program is manifested by his Golden Quintet, a powerful unit comprising South Asian-American synthesizer/pianist Vijay Iyer, sun percussionist Famoudou Don Moye from Rochester, New York, and drummer Pheeroan akLaff, and bassist John Lindberg, who both originated in the state of Michigan. The band that Smith calls Organic also includes Lindberg, along with Korean avant-cellist Okkyung Lee, Icelandic electro bassist Skuli Sverrisson, and several guitarists; they are identified as New Haven's Michael Gregory (like akLaff an old colleague of the leader); Lamar Smith and Brandon Ross. The latter's membership in a free jazz group named for abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and his creative collaborations with Don Byron, James Carter, Kip Hanrahan, and Cassandra Wilson, made him an ideal choice for inclusion in a Wadada-led group. Both ensembles combine swirling currents of ethereal mystery with funk tropes descended directly from the achievements of Miles Davis during the last 25 years of his life. Smith's applied spiritual poetics call in references to Sufi master Al-Shadhili; an ancient place of Muslim worship known as the Dome of the Rock, and Sirat, the bridge to Paradise which could also be understood as a metaphor for virtuous and honorable living. The Golden section of the album closes as the Organic portion opens with two contrasting realizations of "South Central L.A. Kulture". This is followed by a nearly 20-minute rhythm jam dedicated to "Angela Davis," a protracted communion called "Organic," and a soul-cleansing flight entitled "Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy." This extraordinary album will sound best when experienced alongside the Harriet Tubman unit's 2011 recording Ascension. For best results, open all doors and windows before using large speakers to play the three discs — Smith and Harriet Tubman — all the way through at maximum volume.


Born: December 18, 1941 in Leland, MS

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A consistently adventurous trumpeter who has stuck to playing avant-garde jazz and classical music throughout his career, Leo Smith's dry, introverted style (which makes extensive use of space) is a strong contrast to the more jubilant flights of Lester Bowie. Smith originally played drums, mellophone, and French horn before settling on trumpet. He has also created a systemic musical language he calls Ankhrasmation, which has proved to be significant in his development as an artist and as an educator....
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Spiritual Dimensions, Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith
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