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A leading light in experimental jazz, trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith assembled a brand new band for Fire Illuminations, the latest album in his nearly half-century career. Dubbed Orange Wave Electric, the group consists of Nels Cline, Brandon Ross, and Lamar Smith on guitar, Melvin Gibbs and Bill Laswell on bass, Pheeroan aKlaff on drums, Mauro Refosco on percussion, and Hardedge on electronics – a mini-orchestra of plugged-in sonics. “Ntozake,” the epic opening track, makes clear in what direction Smith is heading here: straight to the Big Fun valley of Bitches Brew. Navigating layers of guitar, bass, and percussion, Smith’s high, sustained lines soar and slither, seeking the hot spots in the arrangements and setting them alight. Though surrounded by top caliber players, Smith engages a ninth partner to take a heavy hand: the studio itself. Taking Miles Davis and Lee “Scratch” Perry as his inspirations, Smith uses his recording environment as an instrument, especially in the editing and mixing stage – a time-honored tradition that’s mostly found in the jazztronica end of things these days. Utilizing various permutations of the ensemble as well as the studio itself, Smith paints a series of pictures that live up the album title – lit by firelight, with shadows dancing across the frame and shapes shifting under the illumination. With Orange Wave Electric, Smith has clearly found a new muse.
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