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Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell: The Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer

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The music on The Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer possesses a stripped-down sound, which makes sense because it comes from a duet concert. But Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell play with passion and cohesion that makes any additional instruments unnecessary. The recording comes from a 1986 concert that was broadcast on Brandeis University’s radio station. Both men had garnered estimable reputations for their forward-thinking music by that time, but on this particular night they proved that melody and hard swinging were just as important to how they played.

Smith’s triumphant long tones in “Uprising” open the album and set the bar at a high level, which the duo maintains throughout. His trumpet style sounds like a missing link between Don Cherry and Miles Davis, combining the bright attack of the former with the latter’s ability to say a great deal without the need for complex lines. Even when Smith trills, splits tones or just lays on a few choice pitches, it all sounds captivating. Blackwell could center a riff on the rims of his kit for six minutes, as he does in the title track, without ever sounding remotely repetitive. The performance includes a lot of similar grooves, but there are also classic Blackwell-isms-like the rolls and sprays of snare fills on “Albert Ayler in a Spiritual Light”-that recall his work with Eric Dolphy.

Smith and Blackwell were not regular collaborators, but by the way they sounded on this night, they clearly shared the same mindset.