Wadada Leo Smith will present Create Festival West … Video

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Composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith will present CREATE Festival West, a two-day exploration of his music that will feature classic works alongside world premiere performances. The festival, which takes place Dec. 15–16 at The Lab in San Francisco, will include performances by seven separate ensembles. In addition, Smith will host a workshop on his Ankhrasmation Symbolic Language Scores for musicians only. 

CREATE Festival West offers an opportunity to experience the full scope of Smith’s sui generis compositional voice and category-defying musical approach, which expands upon the all-embracing concepts of the AACM, a now-iconic improviser’s collective that Smith joined in 1967.

The festival weekend opens with the premiere of a new work titled South Central L.A.by guitarist Lamar Smith, the trumpeter’s 22-year-old grandson, who will lead a trio featuring “soundesign” artist Hardedge and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. The opening-night program continues with Smith’s ensemble Silence, with David Leikam on Moog synthesizer and Anthony Davis on piano, and RedKoral Quartet, a string quartet assembled to perform Smith’s music and consisting of longtime collaborators Shalini Vijayan and Mona Tian (violins), Andrew McIntosh (viola) and Ashley Walters (cello), joined by Smith and Hardedge.

Both evenings will culminate with a performance of music from America’s National Parks, a six-movement suite inspired by the splendor, legacy and political controversies of the country’s public landscapes. The work will be performed by Smith’s newly expanded Golden Quintet with Davis, akLaf, bassist John Lindberg and cellist Walters. Cuneiform’s 2016 two-CD recording of America’s National Parks was named Jazz Album of the Year in DownBeat’s 2017 Critics Poll. Smith was also honored as Jazz Artist of the Year and topped the poll’s Trumpet category.

The festival’s Day 2 lineup includes a performance by the Rova Saxophone Quartet featuring Larry Ochs, Bruce Ackley, Jon Raskin and Steve Adams. Also on the program are Smith’s ensemble Earth featuring pianist Motoko Honda, haegeum player Soo Yeon Lyuh and percussionist William Winant, as well as his group Pacifica with guitarist Henry Kaiser and bassist Lindberg.

Several of the works will be supplemented by images provided by video artist Jesse Gilbert, who adds integral visual context, according to Smith. “The music and imagery don’t move in separate streams,” he said. “They’re actually intimately connected and responsible for each other, allowing us to create a narrative that transcends space and time. It’s twofold: There’s a technical and musical connection, and then there’s a psychological and historical connection that helps to provide for comprehension of the work.”

On Dec. 16, Smith will offer an afternoon workshop (1–3 p.m.) for musicians on his Ankhrasmation Symbolic Language Scores, which use non-standard visual directions and are considered works of art in themselves.

Smith said he hopes that audiences who attend the festival will come away “with a deeper understanding of how I make my art. I expect that they’ll be more informed about what my music is and therefore they can create a deeper level of appreciation for what I do. Ultimately I wish to create a dialogue about issues of liberty, democracy, art and the connection between human beings.”

CREATE Festival, which is supported by the Doris Duke Foundation and Creative Capital, debuted in April in New Haven, Connecticut, where it is expected to continue each year. Smith received the Doris Duke Artist Award in 2016.

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