Dark Lady of the Sonnets



Yet another trio that should whet the appetite of creative jazz lovers, Wadada Leo SmithJack DeJohnette and Vijay Iyer convened on Avatar Studios in 2016 to record for the first time as a unit. Trumpeter Smith and drummer DeJohnette share a playing history that dates back to the late ’60s and has continued to the present (as on Wadada’s recently released four-disc set The Chicago Symphonies, also on TUM). Smith and Iyer have also enjoyed a rich collaborative relationship that dates back 20 years. However, the late 2021 release A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday (TUM) represents the first meeting of DeJohnette and pianist Iyer. As might be expected from musicians who share a commitment to deep artistic expression, the results are beautiful and complex and at times quite surprising. Smith has long expressed his affection and admiration for Billie Holiday — his 2011 recording Dark Lady of the Sonnets certainly made it plain — and the bluesy opening title track addresses the tragedy of the singer’s life without becoming bathetic. And while that acoustic trio expression begins the album in a manner that fans of these musicians may have anticipated — although perhaps not DeJohnette’s poignant and masterful four-minute solo which introduces the piece — its closing track is an intriguing outlier. Shimmering with electronic textures, “Rocket” launches with a droning keyboard sound and funky drums creating an underlying tension that continues to build. Wadada’s horn is the vessel’s bright, fiery trail streaking across the stratosphere, while Iyer’s futuristic burbles on Hammond B-3 and DeJohnette’s drumming are the ship’s inner workings propelling the piece through space. Toward the flight’s last leg, Wadada’s smeary exhortations, Iyer’s atmospheric organ washes and DeJohnette’s luminous patter recall Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, the landmark sessions on which DeJohnette had played. Fittingly, the drummer gets the last word, the quiet scintillation of his cymbals concluding the album just as they had opened it.

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The Authoritative Voice in Jazz