The Empyreal Horn of Wadada Leo Smith

Image by Alberto Bigoni.

There's an ancient church in Pohja, Finland named after Mary, the mother of Jesus. Built in the fifteenth century. In 2019 it hosted and, in its obvious aural perfection, became an essential part of a recording by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith released in 2021. Titled completely and simply Trumpet, the music on these discs is as sublime as a church choir imagines the heavenly choirs of angels. Smith's horn is as clarion as Gabriel's was said to be and as melodic as the birds singing outside your morning window. The tones and timbre in these solo pieces are as clear as the source of a mountain spring and as bewitching as a Nordic winter in the forests of the Völva; the witches of the Norsemen and women.

Wadada Leo Smith is a jazz legend; an elder in the halls of this music that defines improvisation, defies form while creating new ones, and demands the listener respond to its calls for contemplation and response. Born in the small Mississippi town of Leland in December 1941, he formed the Creative Construction Company with Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins in 1967. Prior to that first foray into the new milieu known as free jazz, Smith had worked in R&B and the blues. When considering his birthplace, it's interesting to note that not only does US Highway 61 go through the town, but the bluesmen James “Son” Thomas and Johnny Winter both spent parts of their lives there. Indeed, Thomas is buried there after spending much of his later life living near the railroad tracks in town.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com

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