Wadada Leo Smith knows plenty about the macro realm. Extended works such as Ten Freedom Summers (a four-disc affair with an elaborate string section) and Occupy the World (for a 22-piece orchestra) have been rightly cited for their scope. But the trumpeter-composer is also a master of the intimate collabo. Relatively recent forays with drummer Louis Maholo-Maholo and pianist Angelica Sanchez have highlighted his nuanced brass approach and underscored his commitment to partnership. In the large, it’s these reduced pairings that woo me most. I fell for Smith’s sound after bumping into his first album, a solo affair, in the mid-70s; his trio work on Bobby Naughton’s The Haunt solidified the attraction. Fetching stuff.
So is Celestial Weather (TUM), a duet with bassist John Lindberg. The two met 40 years ago as part of Anthony Braxton’s Creative Orchestra project and have remained connected since. You can hear their unity in the heady banter of these three discrete suites. Each is a cascade of curt phrases – some sonorous, some fragged, some abstracted – that manage to solidify as they align with those of their mate. Subtle dynamics are central to their success, and it’s more than just playing see-saw with their individual attacks. There’s a wealth of variety at work as Smith glides through the upper register in a clarion timbre while Lindberg’s instrument resonates below.
The title piece acknowledges extreme meteorological events, moving from “Cyclone” to “Tornado” in 35 minutes of twists and turns. With the bassist’s bow clacking the strings and the trumpeter’s gnarled blasts, “Hurricane” stirs up an expected storm. But they also build moments of calm into these excursions; “Icy Fog” is as placid as it is pressurized.
Poetically, silence is often the third partner here. A nod to Malachi Favors’ earthy eloquence is aided by composure. Though it’s not without a few static moments, the duo’s mercurial chamber music is something each participant has in his blood at this late date. No wonder it sounds so natural.