Wadada Leo Smith Ten Freedom Summers

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LABELS: Cuneiform
ALBUM TITLE: Ten Freedom Summers
WORKS: Ten Freedom Summers
PERFORMER: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet), Golden Quartet/Quintet, Southwest Chamber Music/Jeff von der Schmidt


Although there are many outstanding recordings in Smith’s canon, it’s hard to avoid calling this his masterpiece. Centring on 1954-64, this monumental project (34 years in the making), essays the history of the US civil rights movement, through a series of meditations. It also encompasses the Supreme Court’s 1857 ‘Dred Scott Decision’, ruling that slaves and their descendants were not protected by the Constitution, and much else.

Recorded shortly before his 70th birthday, Smith’s set is as passionate and involving as anything he has ever done. Much of the music is stylistically rooted in the 1960s free-jazz new wave, which, as Smith observes, was not just ‘about’ the civil rights and Black Power movements, but was a vital part of them. But the pieces for chamber ensemble are equally intense in their own way. Smith’s own playing is riveting, and all the musicians in both ensembles do him proud. 


Barry Witherden