AMN Reviews: Wadada Leo Smith / Barry Schrader – Pacific Light and Water​/​Wu Xing – Cycle of Destruction (2020; Bandcamp)

This single-track, EP-length recording was impressive at first listen, got put on the shelf for later review, and ended up staying there longer than expected. This happens when your shelf is virtual and still overflowing.

In any event, the story of the piece’s genesis is almost as interesting as the piece itself. Back in 2005, composer and trumpet player Wadada Leo Smith and electroacoustic sound sculptor Barry Schrader agreed to produce what they referred to as an “overlay” work. Schrader created a graphical score based on Smith’s drawing of how light appears at various depths in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Chinese concept of Wu Xing in which groups of five related elements are arranged in cycles. While their contributions were performed and recorded individually, the score provided a roadmap of sorts.

Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of the track is its use of space. This would not be a surprise to anyone familiar with Smith’s style, but Schader adeptly provides a quiet – almost ambient – background. Tones hum and buzz, while gentle percussive elements arise from time to time. Over this Smith provides what is most likely a structured improvisation, with long-held notes in various registers as well as rapid runs. His playing is often textural and discordant, reflecting the dual architectures of nature and philosophy on which the recording is based.