Three quarters of the way through his concert last night at the Clef Club in Philadelphia, Wadada Leo Smith unleashed a clarion trumpet call known to anyone who has heard Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. In a night of furious, complex time changes, angular melodies and fractured motifs, it was one of the few anchors presented in this wide-ranging concert of barely composed free improvisation. The guy in front of me started bopping his head and drumming on his knees, an exercise that would’ve been futile for most of this set.
Wadada Leo Smith was one of the leading lights of the new jazz in the 1970s. As a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago, (AACM) he came up with all the brilliant and iconoclastic musicians in that scene from Anthony Braxton to the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Over forty years later, his music still burns with the same intensity and political verve.