Downbeat Magazine Review ****
"Wisdom in Time" - INTAKT 128
Wadada Leo Smith & Günter Baby Sommer

by Peter Margasak
July 2007

In his liner notes to this disc, Oliver Schwerdt discusses the infrequency of trumpet-percussion duets in jazz, citing the work of Bill Dixon and Tony Oxley along with Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell as obvious exceptions. While that situation makes this pairing especially welcome, the truth is that this collaboration comes as a worthy extension of the trio these two had with the late German bassist Peter Kowald. That grouping released two excellent albums on FMP and worked regularly for several years during the late 1970s and early '80s, producing some of the strongest music transcontinental free-jazz has ever seen. Despite a gap of more than 25 years, Wadada Leo Smith and Gunter Baby Sommer haven't lost any of their special rapport.

While the instrumentation is stripped-down - no thumb piano, flute or bells this time around - the hypnotic atmosphere remains. As usual, Smith surrounds his carefully measured melodic statements with the judicious use of silence. Few trumpeters of the modern era have equaled his seamless marriage of lyricism, especially when he uses a mute. and extended technique - the sour smears, blubbery effects - sometimes combined in the same phrase. He uses electronics to alter his sere tone, thickening his striated cries or enhancing their brittleness, with his organic communion with Sommer the key factor in the end.

The drummer is just as coloristic and melodic as the horn man. Cliche as it may sound, at its best the music is conversational. A piece like "Woodland Trail To The Giants" recalls the Cherry-Blackwell material in its pan-cultural scope, but Smith and Sommer have a striking identity all their own.        

© 1997-2011 Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith