Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
In the late 1960s, a vibrant Black avant-garde art and music movement was blooming in Chicago. The movement revolved around two distinct but interrelated collectives; AfriCOBRA (African Commune Of Bad Relevant Artists) and the AACM (Association for The Advancement of Creative Musicians). While there have been recent strides made to celebrate AfriCOBRA’s legacy (the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s The Freedom Principle exhibition and a book by co-founder Wadsworth A. Jarrell)—AACM has long been recognized for producing some of the greatest improvisational and experimental musicians in the world, counting Amina Claudine Myers, Lester Bowie, Nichole Mitchell, Matana Roberts and others among its ranks.
One of the more well-known first-generation AACM members is trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith. For over five decades, Smith has carved out his own set of unique musical spaces, and his work is consistently challenging and imaginative. For his latest, Sun Beans of Shimmering Light, Smith joins with woodwind player and instrument-maker Douglas R. Ewart and drummer Mike Reed for a set of improvisational works that are both intentional and fueled by curiosity.
The album’s opener, “Constellations And Conjunctional Spaces” sets the tone; Smith and Ewart’s playing melds seamlessly, while Reed’s flourishes add tasteful rhythmic and tonal accents. On “Super Moon Rising,” Smith’s bright tone and Reed’s playing are particularly impressive, providing a dynamic and ever-shifting bed of percussion for Smith and Ewart to play both in and around. “Unknown Forces” begins by showcasing Smith’s strength as a soloist. Smith’s lines are soulful and patiently phrased, jutting out between each daring moment of silence.
On Sun Beans of Shimmering Light, these experienced players carry on a legacy of experimental music and boundless creativity that started so many decades ago. That Smith continues to present music from the very cutting edge of jazz and improvised music after so many years of challenging the genre’s conventions is an impressive and inspiring feat.