Exposé Online banner

Wadada Leo Smith — America's National Parks
(Cuneiform Rune 430/431, 2016, 2CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2017-01-27

America's National Parks Cover art

A couple of years ago I reviewed Wadada Leo Smith’s Great Lakes Suites, and I noted that he was on a roll, producing numerous large-scale projects. That roll has continued — discogs.com lists 12 releases over the years 2014-16, two of which were double CD sets, on nearly as many different record labels (Cuneiform, RareNoise, Tzadik, ECM, and TUM among them). For his newest Cuneiform release, his theme is a loose interpretation of US National Parks: Yellowstone, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and Yosemite are the actual National Parks; other “parks” include “New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718,” “Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920-2002: A Literary National Park,” and “The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the River – a National Memorial Park c. 5000 BC.” The musicians on board include some familiar names. Bassist John Lindberg is here, and pianist Anthony Davis; the drummer is free jazz legend Pheeroan akLaff, and Ashley Walters adds a new dimension with her cello. The expanded instrumentation provides Smith with a broader range of tone colors to take advantage of. The cello in particular often acts as a counterbalance to the trumpet, and Walters’ mastery of extended playing techniques is well utilized. “The Mississippi River” has a section where Lindberg’s plucked bass and Walters’ eerie cello play off each other, and such moments are spread across the 90+ minutes of this suite — all of the possible combinations of two and three instruments are presented, as well as solo spots. The virtues of this ensemble are many. I particularly like the way akLaff can play freely without tripping up the group when they’re playing together. He has a way of swinging that is idiosyncratic but works in this context. Davis is great at the piano as well, with a comparable way of mixing free playing with Smith’s themes, so it almost seems that the coordinated sections just coalesced out of telepathy. Once again, Wadada Leo Smith has produced a monumental work of contemporary jazz, and while a listener might not always want to commit to the full set in a sitting, each of the pieces is a considerable achievement on its own, proving that jazz need not be augmented by electronics to be valid in today’s world.


Filed under: New releases, 2016 releases

Related artist(s): Wadada Leo Smith

Latest news

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more

2019-03-03
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more

2019-02-21
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more

2019-01-31
Keyboardist Ingo Bischof R.I.P. – Keyboard player Ingo Bischof, best known as the longtime keyboard player of German band Kraan, passed away on January 29th, 2019. Bischof was born January 2, 1951 in Berlin-Kreuzberg and joined Kraan in 1975. » Read more

2019-01-11
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Genesis - 1976-1982 – Even though this box set covers the post-Gabriel years from 1976’s A Trick of the Tail through 1981’s Abacab, it was actually the first released. As with the other sets, each album comes...  (2008) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues