Sacred Ceremonies 

“Social Justice — A Fire for Reimagining the World”


Another project from Wadada Leo Smith’s bountiful harvest of recent years, Sacred Ceremonies (TUM) reveals the magic of his collaborations with bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Milford Graves. A three-disc collection, it consists of one disc of trumpet and drums duets, one disc of trumpet and bass duets and a third disc of trio performances. The confluence of Smith and Graves, to whom the collection is dedicated — he died in February 2021 before its release — represents the meeting of creative-jazz giants, Smith making his mark in Chicago and Graves in New York City in the 1960s. Of a younger generation, Laswell gained notice on New York’s Downtown scene in the 1970s and worked with the likes of Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno and Iggy Pop, among others. The sessions for Sacred Ceremonies were recorded in 2015 and 2016, with some of the songs pre-composed and others taking shape in the studio and reflecting various of Smith’s passions and interests: Tracks are titled or dedicated to pioneer jazz drummer Baby Dodds, poet Henry Dumas and singer Minnie Ripperton. Credited to all three musicians, the trio tune “Social Justice — A Fire for Reimagining the World” bears a hopeful title as relevant today as when it was recorded in late 2015. Graves kicks off the number with an urgent call to action. Wadada is at his most fluid and fiery, his dark, plangent cry echoing touchstone Miles Davis at times, while Laswell’s funky, swampy, distorted bass sounds further conjure a Bitches Brew vibe. Throughout, Graves maintains the vital heartbeat that drives the piece, his drumming at once ancient and ageless. “Milford was one of the greatest master drummers of our times, who reshaped the way rhythms are played on the drum-set,” Smith writes in the album’s liner notes. “We will miss him and so will the world.”

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