"Smith uses his magisterial instrumental voice, his inspirational leadership and his command of classical, jazz and blues forms to remind us of what has gone down and what's still happening."
– DownBeat’s 80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today
"A trumpeter and composer of penetrating insight."
– Nate Chinen, The New York Times
Wadada Leo Smith – trumpet, director of the ensemble
Anthony Davis – piano
Ashley Walters – cello
John Lindberg – bass
Pheeroan akLaff – drums
With America’s National Parks, visionary composer and Wadada Leo Smith offers his latest epic collection, a suite inspired by the scenic splendor, historic legacy, and political controversies of the country’s public landscapes. Writing for his newly expanded Golden Quintet, Smith crafts six extended works that explore, confront and question the preserved natural resources that are considered the most hallowed ground in the U.S. – and some that should be.
America’s National Parks was released shortly before Smith’s 75th birthday in December, arriving, coincidentally, in the midst of celebrations for the centennial of the National Park Service, which was created by an act of Congress on August 25, 1916. The spark for the project, however, came from two places: Smith’s own research into the National Park system, beginning with Yellowstone, the world’s first national park; and Ken Burns’ 12-hour documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
trumpeter six-movement"The idea that Ken Burns explored in that documentary was that the grandeur of nature was like a religion or a cathedral," Smith says. "I reject that image because the natural phenomenon in creation, just like man and stars and light and water, is all one thing, just a diffusion of energy. My focus is on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of the idea of setting aside reserves for common property of the American citizens."
His 28-page score for America’s National Parks was penned for his Golden Quintet, a fresh reconfiguration of the quartet that’s been a keystone of his expression for the last 16 years. Pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg and drummer Pheeroan akLaff are joined by cellist Ashley Walters, affording the composer and bandleader new melodic and coloristic possibilities. "The cello as a lead voice with the trumpet is magnificent," Smith says, "but when you look at the possibilities for melodic formation with the trumpet, the cello, the piano and the bass, that’s paradise for a composer and for a performer."
While these preserved landscapes offer the inspiration of powerful natural beauty, Smith’s always open-minded view of the world leads him to find that same inspiration wherever he is. "Every concrete house is from nature," he says. "Every plastic airplane that flies 300 people across the ocean comes out of nature. Every air conditioner conditions a natural piece of air. I think that the human being is constantly enfolded in organic nature and constructed nature, so I’m constantly inspired, inside the house or outside the house."
released October 14, 2016
Recorded on May 5, 2016 and mixed by Nick Lloyd at Firehouse 12 Recording Studio, New Haven, CT.
Mastered by Gene Paul at G&J Audio, Union City, NJ.
Art and Yosemite National Park photography by Jesse Gilbert.
Liner notes by Shaun Brady
Wadada photo: R.I. Sutherland-Cohen
Anthony photo: Erik Jepsen
Ashley photo: Tim Coburn
John photo: Sotiris Kontos
Pheeroan photo: Jimmy and Deena Katz
Jesse photo: Mona Tian
Package design by Bill Ellsworth.
Thank you to the musicians of the Golden Quintet and Jesse Gilbert, Joyce and Steve of Cuneiform, and Nick Lloyd.