The Great Lakes Suites
Wadada Leo Smith - Trumpet
Henry Threadgill - Alto sax, flute, bass flute
John Lindberg - Double bass
Jack DeJohnette - Drums
Wadada Leo Smith is undergoing a creative renaissance, with involvement in what seems to be an unprecedented amount of projects over the past few years. Ten Freedom Summers, Occupy The World and the collective that just released the album Red Hill are just a few of the projects that he’s spearheaded or been a part of.
Occupy and several other albums from Mr. Smith have been released by Tum Records of Finland, and now that label gives us The Great Lakes Suite, six compositions by Smith spread over two CDs.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this when I learned who was on it, an all-star quartet with Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg and Jack DeJohnette. But beyond the players, it’s the strength of the compositions, particularly the three suites that comprise the first CD, that grabs one’s attention.
The opening Lake Michigan has an unusual and arresting stop-start theme, with a structure that leads to a couple of false endings over its length. Lake Ontario, which follows, makes excellent use of Threadgill’s arid flute. There’s a sense throughout that the musicians are really taking their time to explore each composition, so that the mind doesn’t really record whether the tempos are fast or slow; everything flows in an organic fashion through to the final suite, the music shuffling off like a freighter moving out to the horizon.
Mr. Smith’s trumpet has always had a majestic quality, with a little hint of Miles, and that is still the case here, but now there’s an additional richness, an emotional resonance, that I don’t remember hearing from him before. I was looking forward to hearing Threadgill in a context other than his own groups, and he doesn’t disappoint. His solos seem to be more about juxtaposing interesting textures and building blocks of sound in interaction with the other players, rather than providing strict linear narratives.
It’s a treat to hear Lindberg and DeJohnette, both of whom just kill throughout Suites. I don’t know why we don’t see more of Lindberg, but I’m glad Smith uses him regularly, and DeJohnette is all over his kit, bringing to mind his hyperactive work with Miles during the Fillmore days.
Overall, the first CD is the slightly stronger of the two, mainly due to the aforementioned first two compositions, but that’s a minor quibble. There’s a lot that will keep you coming back to The Great Lakes Suite.