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Wadada Leo Smith

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WADADA LEO SMITH

In its early years the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians--which is presently celebrating its 35th anniversary with a series of eight concerts that began Wednesday--had a surfeit of saxophonists but only a handful of trumpeters. The most prominent of these was Lester Bowie, best known for his work in the Art Ensemble of Chicago and later for his band Brass Fantasy, but Wadada Leo Smith would have to rank a close second: back in the late 60s he appeared on such landmark records as Creative Construction Company and Anthony Braxton's 3 Compositions of New Jazz, both of which also featured Muhal Richard Abrams and Leroy Jenkins. Though he'll celebrate Bowie's muse here, with several pieces he's written for an eight-member AACM brass ensemble, Smith has less in common with his late comrade than you might think. Though they were neck and neck in their command of free improvisation, as well as of their instrument, Smith stands out for his bold use of space, his ability to immerse himself in the ensemble mix, and his wide timbral range--from distorted rips to the purest soft notes--which he uses in the service of an often ethereal beauty. Bowie was a delightfully hammy entertainer, but Smith has made performance a smaller part of his musical life. He's taught at a slew of schools and codified his musical philosophy in two monographs, Rhythms and Notes (8 Pieces); his compositions, in which he's regularly explored the use of silence, electronics, and Eastern music, have frequently been written on commissions from new-music chamber ensembles, including the Kronos Quartet. He most recently released Yo Miles! (Shanachie), a tribute to Miles Davis's dizzying early-70s fusion that heaps his trumpet with electronic effects and pairs it with the similarly doctored guitar of Henry Kaiser; their band will perform in Chicago late this summer. At Friday's concert trumpeter Robert Griffin, trombonist Isaiah Jackson, and tubaist Gerald Powell, all members of Smith's ensemble, will do double duty: they're also three of Edward Wilkerson's 8 Bold Souls, who open the show with a set featuring special guest Oliver Lake on alto and soprano saxes. Friday, 8 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; 312-397-4010. NEIL TESSER

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