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Wadada Leo Smith & Adam Rudolph - Compassion

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Artist: Wadada Leo Smith & Adam Rudolph

Album: Compassion

Label: Kabell/Meta

Review date: May. 1, 2006

Released jointly on Kabell and Meta, the respective labels of its two participants, the genesis of Compassion makes perfect sense. Wadada Leo Smith and Adam Rudolph have traveled in kindred creative music circles over the years. Rudolph first worked with AACM founder Fred Anderson, appearing on several of the saxophonist’s early recordings. Smith also fostered early ties to the AACM and like Rudolph has routinely investigated indigenous cultures as sources for musical inspiration. The honorific “master musician” safely applies to both men and their meeting on record is long overdue.

As with past Meta releases, a New Age patina ensconces much of the project’s surface trappings. Titles like “Sunray Colors and Rainbow Images” and “Love Rhythms, Heart Songs” evoke prayer powwows and chakra rites played out on red rock mountaintops. Rudolph’s cache of ethnic percussion implements, including hand drums, kalimbas and gongs, underscores the general drum circle feel on paper. But the resulting music is far from pastoral or lightweight in conception or execution. Recorded live at a venue in Venice, CA, the acoustics capture both players in close proximity and contemplative collusion, particularly when it’s Rudolph’s peripatetic palms doing the talking. Smith sticks to trumpet and flugelhorn, leaving any electronics in the can. His signature pitch smears and sliding steely tones find plenty of purchase in the performance space and he makes clever use of natural echo. Rudolph is more migratory; moving from kalimbas to sibsi (a Moroccan flute) to gongs and bells beneath Smith’s textured streaks and slurs, occasionally to a fault.

Tracks like the swiftly percolating “Fragrance of Light” where Rudolph’s battery of hand drums encircles Smith’s sharp-tongued brass chatter, combine brevity and elastic propulsion to fine effect. Elsewhere Rudolph’s chanting vocals and telegraphing rhythms bring to mind his frequent colleague Hamid Drake. Smith’s open trumpet salvos on “Love Rhythms,” set against a tabla-like cascade of beats, deliver some of the most focused and salubrious interplay of the set. Muted and pungent with Miles peering in from the periphery, his work on “Song of Humanity” and “Silver Dream Circle” condenses as the contemplative balladic counterpart. Several of the longer excursions waver briefly in spots, but the pair generally reads from the same page and keeps the communication cogent. Trumpet and percussion may not seem like easy bedfellows sans the bridging comfort of other instruments. Rudolph and Smith state a strong case for the combination and concoct an engrossing amalgam of their respective styles in the process.

By Derek Taylor

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