The Creative Orchestra, circa 1979

Leo Smith Creative Orchestra
Budding of a Rose
Moers Music : 1979

LS, trumpet; Roscoe Mitchell, alto sax; Anthony Braxton, reeds; Douglas Ewart, reeds; Wallace McMillian, reeds; Dwight Andrews, reeds; Marty Ehrlich, reeds; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet; Hugh Ragin, trumpet; Mike Mossmann, trumpet; Rob Howard, trumpet; George Lewis, trombone; Ray Anderson, trombone; Alfred Patterson, trombone; Pinguin Moschner, tuba; Marilyn Crispell, piano; Bobby Naughton, vibes; Wes Brown, bass; Pheeroan akLaff, drums, percussion.

We’re continuing our week-long celebration of the exceptional music of composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. This time we’re taking a behind the scenes look at his creative orchestra project Budding of a Rose. Never released on CD, this rarity is one of the key albums in his discography and the first of three large orchestra pieces he’s put forth.

Recorded in a studio in Paris following a radio performance the day before, the album features an astoundingly great line-up; a virtual Who’s Who of Out cats. (The band was so great, in fact, that it was repurposed under different leadership; see below.) It was also one of Marilyn Crispell’s first recordings — no pressure, lady.

For such a large band, there’s an intriguing use of space throughout the piece, with players deployed carefully, almost sparsely. That said, there’s also a rip-snorting solo from (we presume) Anthony Braxton smack dab in the middle of the thing. This is classic Wadada Leo Smith: balancing composition with improvisation to conjure a fascinating hybrid, Creative Music from the Creative Orchestra.

Wadada was kind enough to give us some behind the scenes insight into this remarkable album.

How did this album come about?

I was in Braxton’s orchestra the year he recorded the Creative Orchestra (Köln) 1978 album on tour. The concert director asked if I wanted to come back and do a project where Roscoe and I would share the same bill. The Moers Festival was centered around making records, as opposed to just coming there to play. The guy wanted to get an orchestra record from Roscoe and I. So that motivated our connection.

That project was an orchestra co-led by Roscoe Mitchell and I. We did three performances in Europe – one in Germany, one in Holland, one in Paris. The music on Budding of a Rose comes from that orchestra. We had had a week-long rehearsal for the orchestra in Germany.

So this project was related to Roscoe Mitchell’s Sketches from Bamboo?

They’re definitely sister records. With this orchestra, Roscoe and I shared the space for rehearsal and dialoged about the differences in the music and how we would present it. The way that they’re programmed, the albums go very well together.

How did you and Roscoe pick the musicians for the orchestra?

We decided together. I’ve always worked well with Roscoe. For example, I didn’t know which trumpet players to get. Roscoe brought in all the trumpet players: Hugh Ragin, Mike Mossmann, Rob Howard. He worked with all of them in his ensembles after that. Lo and behold, I loved every one of them. They played great on the records.

Most of the personnel, we just sat and talked about it. We didn’t have any conflicts. We were all looking for the same high level of quality. This music still sounds very good to me, even though it was done a long time ago. It’s got a tremendous brass and reeds section.

What were some of the inspirations behind your compositions?

“Budding of a Rose” is an idea about mysticism or enlightenment. The rose is one of the symbols of the Rosicrucians. All the teachings they pulled up in their studies were siphoned through a Western point of view, but all of them come from ancient Egypt. So that was one of the inspirations.

“Harmonium” talks about the balance of the universe. That’s why you’ve got those really thick and heavy lines in there. There’s a kind of recurring line that happens with the piano and bass that’s like how the celestial spheres balance themselves. It’s also about how a human being can move through their life journey, trying to find the best relationship without bumping or knocking against each other.

In “Mutumishi” I explored how instruments of different pitches could play the same lines. Like the saxophones, they’ve all got the same lines but they play without being transposed to the same key of C. All of my music represents that idea: there’s no transposition and the instrument is allowed to sound as it sounds. This is one of the early pieces where I did that.

Did you write these compositions specifically for the band or the occasion?

I have many orchestra pieces, six of them commissioned by the National Endowment of the Arts. I write music based on inspiration and I select them based on the occasion. So Budding of a Rose was written long before this orchestra existed. If I have a project, I look through and see what’s interesting and what I can program together that gets the feel of who’s in the ensemble, how many rehearsals and what kind of concert we’re playing.

Any chance of your Moers albums being reissued?

I haven’t heard a word about it. But I can tell you one thing: Bobby Naughton was in this band and he recorded every one of these live performances, so somewhere down the line I may release some of that.

* * *

Some Wadada links to take you further:

> WLS’s home page (mind the autoplay…)
> WLS at myspace (where you can hear a couple of tracks from Procession of the Great Ancestry, recently reissued by Nessa)
> Lyn Horton‘s great AAJ profile of WLS
> Vijay Iyer picks 5 expansive WLS recordings
at NPR’s A Blog Supreme
> Two wonderful early interviews with WLS by Bill Smith: Summer 1975 & Summer 1983
> Ted Panken with WLS and George Lewis on WKCR in 1995.

Share tales of your own run-ins with Wadada Leo Smith and his music in the comments!

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