50 ears old today: Alice Coltrane – A Monastic Trio (Impulse, 1968)
Wadada Leo Smith turns 77 today, December 18, 2018.
In recognition of trumpeter-composer Wadada Leo Smith’s 77th birthday, here’s the text of a long feature that I wrote about him for Downbeat last year in conjunction with his multiple “Critics Poll” victories as “Best Trumpet,” “Best Artist” and “Best Album”
Late last December, just after Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith turned 75, well before Downbeat’s critics anointed him “Best Trumpet,” “Best Artist” and “Best Album” for 2017, John Lindberg spoke about “the rare arc” that has brought his old friend to “arguably the most productive time of his career.”
“That Wadada has elevated so much in notoriety, recognition and output of work speaks to his endurance, determination and sheer grit, his complete dedication and focus on his work for 40 years,” said Lindberg, who first played with Smith in a creative orchestra concert in 1978, has played bass regularly with Smith’s Golden Quartet and Organic ensembles since 2004…
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Things Happen In Moments, Not Measures
When Terry Jennings was 20 years old, in December 1960, he was invited to present his music in Yoko Ono’s Manhattan loft, along with fellow composers and close friends Richard Maxwell, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Jennings obliged with nine pieces. We can now look back and consider this: that was more than half of his extant available compositions.
We can also do this: we can hear about 10 of his available works scattered across a clutch of CDs, and a few performances via YouTube and Ubuweb. All but the five piano miniatures found on the remarkable 2009 release Lost Daylight are of uneven audio quality, to put it generously. What we cannot do-and I have made every effort for the past year to do so- is discover more than a few pages of critical texts about his stunningly beautiful, prescient music…
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““Virtuoso” is used promiscuously, without much thought for the actual thing it is describing.
Here’s an example: Lang Lang is considered a virtuosic pianist. He plays at fast tempos and does so with a lot of demonstrative physical flourishes. He also has terrible technique, constantly fudging passages and in the times I’ve seen him unable to maintain a consistent pulse or tempo. I’ve also never heard any ideas from him, so his ability to play the piano and think about music are both questionable to me. There’s nothing I see in him that’s virtuosic, other than perhaps public presentation.
Then there are musicians like Oscar Peterson, or Jascha Heifetz, or Al Di Meola, who can play the hell out of their instrument but, to my ear and heart, do nothing more than spin out polished notes—they have nothing to say. Admiring their technique only goes so far.”