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På skive


«Fire Illuminations»

Trumpeter Wadala Leo Smith proves that it is never too late to form a new band, even an all-star electric band. Smith, who is 81 years old and busy as ever, formed Orange Wave Electric with guitarists Nels Cline, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith, bassists Bill Laswell and Melvin Gibbs,  electronic musician Hardedge, percussionist Mauro Refosco and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. Smith chose the name of this band because «orange is such a vitalizing color, and it relates to the vitality of its electricity».

Smith collaborated before with these musicians. akLaff is a longstanding collaborator of his for more than four decades; Ross and Gibbs hosted Smith in Harriet Tubman trio shows and album (Araminta, Sunnyside, 2017); Smith played with Laswell and late drummer Milford Graves in the Sacred Ceremonies box set (TUM, 2021); Cline and Lamar Smith played in Wadada’s Organic group (Spiritual Dimensions, Cuneiform, 2009); Hardedge played electronics on Smith’s Rosa Parks: Pure Love (TUM, 2019), and only Refosco is a new acquaintance, but is known for his work with David Byrne and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Fire Illuminations sounds like an updated, extension of Smith’s work with Yo Miles! his tribute band to Miles Davis’ electric era with guitarist Henry Kaiser, and not only because of the seminal influence of Davis’ electric bands. Smith employed the recording studio as a key instrument in shaping the vibe of the album, using a series of recording dates conducted and edited over the course of nearly four years, like in Davis’ classics albums Bitches Brew and On the Corner, or the groundbreaking work of Jamaican reggae and dub innovator Lee «Scratch» Perry.

The five, new pieces tell inspirational stories and are linked into a most humane concept that only the greatest and most visionary artists like Smith can realize. The full group plays on the opening, funky «Ntozake», titled after the late American playwright, poet and Black feminist Ntozake Shange (1948-2018), best known for her landmark Obie Award-winning 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Here Smith’s trumpet soars beautifully over the tight groove of the guitars and basses and later meditates over Hardedge’s atmospheric sonics. Smith dedicates two pieces to boxer hero and activist Muhammad Ali, a role model who «demonstrated the greatest quality of humanity when he refused to fight a war that he didn’t believe in». The first, short and contemplative one, «Muhammad Ali’s Spiritual Horizon», features Smith and guitarist Lamar Smith playing over the percolating rhythm section. The second and last piece, «Muhammad Ali and George Foreman Rumble in Zaire Africa», is, obviously, inspired by the legendary Ali’s victory in the Rumble in the Jungle fight. Smith, Cline, Laswell, Gibbs and akLaff borrow some of Ali’s famous fighting techniques and all float freely like butterflies and sting like bees with nasty funky riffs.

«Fire Illuminations Inside the Particles of Light» relates to the transformative nature of fire itself, and its foundational role in the development of human civilization, is a dense and fast-shifting piece, with Smith’s trumpet playing disciplines its chaotic texture. The full group reunites on «Tony Williams», the latest in a number of tributes to the pioneering drummer that Smith has conceived (the last one appears on Sacred Ceremonies), who, according to Smith, brought «another kind of creative energy inside the ensemble that unlocks all of the doors towards inspiration». This beautiful piece begins with a meditative duet of Smith and Refosco and gently blossoms when the whole group joins and introduces an addictive-hypnotic groove.

Eyal Hareuveni

Wadada Leo Smith (tp), Nels Cline (el.g), Brandon Ross (el.g), Lamar Smith (el.g), Bill Laswell (el.b), Melvin Gibbs (el.b), Mauro Refosco (perc), Pheeroan aKLaff (dr), Hardedge (elec)

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