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Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suite

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Composer-trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has set an impossibly high bar for himself recently with a pair of politically trenchant, inventively knotty large ensemble projects, his magnum opus Ten Freedom Summers (2012) and Occupy the World (2013). The Great Lakes Suites suffers only by contrast. Spread over 90 minutes, the six suites (Smith has added Lake St. Clair, astride Detroit, to the traditional quintet of Great Lakes) share an implacable temperament to the point where they could be interchangeably named and sorted. And in lieu of symphonic ensembles and arrangements, Smith hews to a basic quartet.

But what a quartet! In the liner notes, Smith calls out the “flat surfaces” and underlying “volatility” as the “fundamental characteristics” of the Great Lakes. To achieve this “[r]estrained, yet explosive” dynamic, he installed Jack DeJohnette in the drummer’s chair aside his longtime bass cohort John Lindberg and enlisted Henry Threadgill on saxophones and flutes to complete the ensemble.

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