Wadada Leo Smith at Vision Festival, NYC – London Jazz News

Wadada Leo Smith

(Vision Festival Day 1, Roulette, Brooklyn. June 21, 2022. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Wadada Leo Smith with Patricia Nicholson, Founder and Artistic Director of Arts for Art.
Photo credit: Eva Kapanadze

The first day of the 26th annual Festival of Vision celebrated Wadada Leo Smith by awarding him a Lifetime Achievement Award to honor his central role in musical creation (free jazz, essentially). Two immediate conclusions emerge from the showcase of the evening: that this prize is awarded to him as much for his work as a composer and conductor as for his work as a musician.

It was a showcase of many sets, carefully choreographed by Smith with a rugged disregard for the typical demands of an audience – breaks were rare and his address to the crowd was usually done in a gruff voice without the corrupting help of a crowd. ‘a microphone. In less than three hours, Smith presented: compositions for the RedKoral quartet, leading a larger group of the string quartet complemented by drums and two grand pianos at the side of the stage, and led the quartet in conversation with a poetry recital by Thulani Davies. Each composition was a multi-part piece, orchestrated live by Smith from the front of the stage with a mix of traditional sheet music and unique artwork to guide the band, and beckoned various members at various key points to prepare them. to the next phase. . They are expansive, largely unhurried songs, spacious compositions with careful progressions that allow for improvisation within a framework, though the lines between planned and spontaneous are delightfully blurred.

Wadada Leo Smith conducting the RedKoral Quartet (Andrew McIntosh, photo).
Photo credit: Eva Kapanadze

Curiously, fewer people on stage resulted in fewer people for Smith to control, and therefore a better chance of seeing Smith’s varied creativity in action. It was in his duet sessions with Pheeroan akLaff on drums, at the opening and towards the end of the evening, that we saw the most variation and dynamic and textural energy, with Smith focusing his attention on himself and his trumpet, curled up towards his floor mic, or directing akLaff to embark on an array of worked directions and fills. But that’s when Smith was left alone on stage as the sole protagonist of ‘Butterfly Silver’, a 16mm short film by Robert Fenz – of Smith in high contrast in a doorway with his solo contemplative trumpet – which we remember best from his earlier role as a fascinating musician

Wadada Leo Smith is a public figure, so a fine line must be drawn at award ceremonies, a balance struck between maintaining that focus, drawing on his story and gravity, while avoiding the tendency to the event to wrap itself in its own personal importance. Tuesday at Roulette, Vision Festival had gathered a crowd of support, the kind of crowd that greeted the trumpeter with a standing ovation at the entrance. Generally, I would say that the music that was being celebrated requires focus and attention, and the ability to get lost in your own space. And yet, there were times when the profile and scale of the event meant there were photographers busy shooting, organizers pacing back and forth and members of the crowd eager to snack as if they were at a baseball game.

However, perhaps this audio-sensory confusion is part of the plan, and Creative Music is more than the music itself, but something much deeper. Indeed, the very opening of the show could be said to have defined the atmosphere of the night. Early in the evening, Smith took the stage in front of official host Patricia Nicholson. Without a microphone or scheduled speech, Smith launches into a few words. Or, should I say boarded up, because in less than a sentence, someone shouts into the crowd that they can’t hear him. Smith responds – “If you can’t hear me, feel me. And if you can’t feel me, see me”. It is in this collective space between feeling, seeing and hearing that Smith and the Vision Festival met the public for a celebration of his work.

CONNECTIONS: Wadada Leo Smith

vision festival / June 21 program

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