Wadada Leo Smith & Orange Wave Electric: Fire Illuminations

The octogenarian trumpeter echoes Miles Davis, with references to Davis's electric period and to drummer Tony Williams


You might have thought that, after his frenetic celebrations for his 80th birthday in 2022, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith would have had a year off to relax and recharge. But no. With 2023 barely a few months old, he continues in action with the Orange Wave Electric, his new electric ensemble. “Orange is such a vitalizing colour,” he says in regard to the name of his new group. “It relates to the vitality of the electricity that I’m working with in this ensemble.”

The five tracks on this debut set were assembled in a series of sessions and configurations, the final album the subject of much post-production work. The full ensemble of nine only appear on the opening Ntozake and on Tony Williams, another of Smith’s tributes to pioneering drummers. The three other shorter tracks feature a Smith-led sextet or quintet.

Of course, Smith has form when it comes to electric instruments, his three hi-voltage collaborations with guitarist Henry Kaiser on the Yo Miles! project lighting up the skies some years back. Echoes of Miles flood back here, too, Smith’s reverberant trumpet echoing out over the loping, muscular groove of the opening Ntozake, the track named after Ntozake Shange, the award-winning playwright. Various guitars then twist and contort the track while Smith soars on.

The entire group reconvenes for Tony Williams, the drummer whose multiple metrics so informed Miles’s second great quintet, this time with a more emphasis on drums and percussion and with a greater spectral depth to the music.

The three small-group tracks are more succinct, Muhammad Ali’s Spiritual Horizon featuring only Lamar Smith on guitar along with a rolling rhythm section and some long-form blowing from Smith. Most complex of all is the title track, a constantly shifting piece, dense with layers of sound through which Smith’s clarion trumpet shines through like a beacon.

With Smith so versatile and so varied, it is sometimes hard to pin him down. But he does sound right at home here, still finding inspiration in the music of half a century ago. Yo Wadada: still going strong!

(1) Ntozake; (2) Muhammad Ali’s Spiritual Horizon; Fire Illuminations Inside Light Particles (1) Tony Williams; (3) Muhammad Ali And George Forman’s Rumble In Zaire Africa (48.40)
(1) Wadada Leo Smith (t); Nels Cline, Brandon Ross, Lamar Smith (elg); Bill Laswell, Melvin Gibbs (elb); Hardedge (elec); Mauro Refosco (pc); Pheeroan aKLaff (d). January 2019 to some point in 2021, place unknown.
(2) as (1) but Wadada Leo Smith, Lamar Lamar Smith, Laswell, Gibbs, Refosco, aKLaff.
(3) as (1) but Wadada Leo Smith, Cline, Laswell, Gibbs, aKLaff.
Kabell Records KB112 (download only)