Tuesday, July 16, 2019

[30] Wadada Leo Smith and friends at The Stone @ Mannes | #1Summer50Concerts #JazzWeek

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WHO: Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; Mariel Roberts & Okkyung Lee, cello; Erika Dohi, piano; Gabriel Zucker, synthesizer
WHAT: WADADA LEO SMITH Red Autumn Gold; Silence
WHERE: The Stone @ The New School
WHEN: June 28, 2019 at 8:30pm

So here's the thing.

I loved Wadada Leo Smith's performance. I think that what he did was innovative, and cool, and kept me interested the whole time.

There's only one problem: I don't really know what he did.

I think it was some sort of free jazz. Let me try to describe it. All the musicians were reading off of graphic scores, the kind that don't really specify anything other than direction and approximate time. The keyboard played a lot of single drone notes. The pianist alternated between random, Messiaen-tinged licks and dissonant chords for which she leaned over the top of the piano to damper the strings. The cellists never really played notes so much as effects -- a lot of sliding, a lot of weird in-between harmonics. And Wadada Leo Smith would occasionally come in with a super super loud entrance that would disturb the peace like a comic book character who pops a thought bubble with a pushpin.

Free jazz isn't the right term. It was just kind of....free. I think Wadada's goal was to let the music flow for itself. He sort of vaguely conducted occasionally, but really it was up to the players how the music went. They weren't given too many instructions. They did what they wanted. Wadada nodded in approval.

I mean, I don't have a ton to say about the performance. It was exactly what I needed on a Friday night. It wasn't particularly tough to listen to. Wadada's occasional loud entrances made me jump a little bit, especially considering that the #@%$ing column in the middle of the venue (huge design flaw) kept me from seeing him half the time. The performers all had good imaginations and, even in moments with repeated modules, every note was novel.

If you want to get into new music, this is not where you should start. But if you're interested in exploring a new sound world -- my date and I concluded that it was a sound world rather than a type of music -- then give Wadada a try.

Also, one parting observation: we need more cello jazz in this world. That is all.

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