Trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith‘s 2012 album, the four-CD set Ten Freedom Summers, is the kind of epic that caps off careers; it’s the kind of mammoth artwork a listener stares at with a combination of awe and fear—”Wow, this is amazing!” paired with “When am I ever gonna have time to make it to the end of this thing?” Well, Smith’s far from finished, creatively or professionally. Pretty much the opposite, in fact; he seems more energized than ever, and he’s not interested in taking it easy on fans, either. He’s back this year with a two-CD set, Occupy the World, that finds him fronting TUMO, a 21-member ensemble from Finland created in the mold of massive 1960s/70s aggregations like the Globe Unity Orchestra or the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra.
This recording, from February 2012, documents the first assembly of TUMO. According to the label releasing Occupy the World, TUM Records, the ensemble “is not intended to become an institutionalized orchestra. Instead, it is a loose aggregation of musicians with a shared interest in creative improvised music. In many cases, they also have had a prior affiliation with TUM Records through various other groups and projects.”
The group’s membership is as follows: Verneri Pohjola, trumpet and electronics; Jari Hongisto, trombone; Kalle Hassinen, horn; Kenneth Ojutkangas, tuba; Juhani Aaltonen, flute, alto flute, bass flute and piccolo; Fredrik Ljungqvist, tenor and sopranino saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet; Mikko Innanen, alto, soprano and baritone saxophones; Seppo Kantonen, piano; Iro Haarla, harp; Mikko Iivanainen, electric guitar; Kalle Kalima, electric guitar; Veli Kujala, quarter-tone accordion; Terhi Pylkkänen, violin; Niels Thorkild Levinsen, violin; Barbora Hilpo, viola; Iida-Vilhelmiina Laine, cello; Ulf Krokfors, double bass; John Lindberg, double bass; Janne Tuomi, drums and marimba; Mika Kallio, drums; Stefan Pasborg, drums.
The music shares many qualities with Smith’s previous work: There’s plenty of space, allowing individual voices to be heard rather than a massive blaring roar; the melodies are keening and heartfelt, always serving to present genuine emotion rather than genre pastiche or glib familiarity; and there’s a strong blues feel, most noticeable in the wiry twangs of electric guitar but also audible in every note the trumpeter himself plays. It’s breathtaking stuff, and the length at which the ensemble works (there are three tracks on the first disc, and two on the second) allows every voice to be heard. Some pieces are adaptations or re-orchestrations of music Smith’s recorded in the past, while others are brand-new. The track streaming below, “The Bell,” is a radically altered version of a composition the trumpeter first recorded on Anthony Braxton‘s 3 Compositions of New Jazz in 1968, alongside the saxophonist, violinist Leroy Jenkins, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, and percussionist Steve McCall.
Stream “The Bell”:
Much more information about Occupy the World, including extensive notes from Smith about the compositions, his methodology and more, is available on the TUM Records website.