By Jeff Dayton-Johnson
Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is among the most adventurous players in jazz, having worked with musicians ranging from Anthony Braxton to John Zorn. At 70, he seems to be only now hitting his stride. Ten Freedom Summers is his new composition cycle dedicated to the history of the Civil Rights movement. Spread over four and a half hours, featuring a jazz quintet and a chamber music ensemble, it’s tough, challenging work. The suite traces milestones of the movement — culminating in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Memphis “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered on the eve on his assassination in April 1968 — and situates them in broad historic and thematic contexts.
KUSP’s Jeff Dayton-Johnson says there are few precedents for this work in jazz, in terms of ambition and creativity.