The festival debuted in April 2017 with a weekend of performances and discussions in New Haven, CT, where it will continue each year. Create West followed at the Lab in San Francisco in December 2017. This year’s edition will include two World and two U.S. premieres of suites penned by Smith, with inspiration culled from the natural world, the cosmos, politics and a much-needed plea for tolerance. These pieces add significantly to what Adam Shatz of the New York Review of Books calls, “one of the most innovative bodies of work in American music since the 1960s.”
“This idea had been in a dream state for many, many years,” Smith says of the festivals. That long-cherished dream is being realized with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which awarded Smith the Doris Duke Artist Award in 2016. CREATE offers a thrilling, rare opportunity to delve deeply into the full scope of Smith’s sui generis compositional voice and approach, which – in their category-defying range and breadth – can only be classified using Smith’s preferred term, “Creative Music.”
The weekend opens with an ensemble led by guitarist Lamar Smith (Wadada’s grandson), featuring electronic artist Hardedge and drummer Thurman Barker. Saturday’s program continues with the world premiere of Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Unseen Suite, a piece inspired by the great mysteries of the universe. The suite features Smith’s Kosmic Music Ensemble, in which Wadada’s trumpet is joined by vibraphonist Bobby Naughton, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, guitarist Lamar Smith, drummer Thurman Barker, and Jawara on jimbe and percussion.
The opening evening will conclude with Smith’s latest composition drawing on his love for America’s natural splendor, The Great Lakes. Following in the spirit of his widely-acclaimed America’s National Parks, Smith wrote the piece for his newly-assembled Great Lakes Quartet: himself, saxophonist Jonathan Haffner, bassist John Lindberg, and drummer Thurman Barker.
Sunday’s line-up begins with the U.S. premiere of President Obama's Speech At The Selma Bridge, a suite written for the renowned power-jazz trio Harriet Tubman. Wadada will join the band, which includes bassist Melvin Gibbs (Rollins Band, Sonny Sharrock), guitarist Brandon Ross (Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson), and drummer J.T. Lewis (Whitney Houston, Bill Laswell). The piece recalls Barack Obama’s historic speech commemorating the 50thanniversary of “Bloody Sunday” on the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in front of a crowd of 40,000.
The ideals represented by that speech are also beautifully represented in the festival’s final piece, the world premiere of Peace, Love and Liberty: Compassion and Respect For a Tolerant World: A Suite. Performed by Smith’s longstanding Golden Quintet – Wadada, pianist Anthony Davis, cellist Ashley Walters, drummer Pheeroan akLaff, and video artist Jesse Gilbert – the new suite is the composer’s plea for understanding, compassion and tolerance at an incredibly divisive time. As President Obama’s Speech provides a poignant look back at another fraught chapter in our history, Peace, Love and Liberty offers an optimistic and embracing look forward.
Both of Saturday’s premieres as well as the Golden Quintet performance will be supplemented by images provided by video artist Gilbert, who Smith says adds integral visual context to the aural elements. “The music and imagery don’t move in separate streams,” he says. “They’re actually intimately connected and responsible for each other, allowing us to create a narrative that transcends space and time. It’s twofold: there’s a technical and musical connection, and then there’s a psychological and historical connection that helps to provide for comprehension of the work.”
In order to further that comprehension, the Festival will include an exhibition of 20 of Smith’s Ankhrasmation Symbolic Language Scores in a special gallery at Firehouse 12. On Sunday, April 8, Smith will lead a walk-through of the exhibition along with curator Lyn Horton. He will also lead a discussion of his unique compositional approach. Curators and the general public are invited to join.
“For all the minimalism of his sound,” writes Adam Shatz, “Smith has turned out to be a maximalist in his ambitions, evolving into one of our most powerful storytellers, an heir to American chroniclers like Charles Ives and Ornette Coleman.” That ambition will be on prismatic display throughout the CREATE Festival, allowing Smith to weave multiple tales across the sweeping breadth of his formidable imagination.
The latter piece roars its way in, the rapid-paced bowing of strings, the mighty piano chords, the "heavy" beat, all creating a sonic congestion. The trumpet states the handsome melody before the piece falls apart and into silence. Madsen leads the group back with chords that may remind some of vintage 1970 McCoy Tyner. The leader then break into a unaccompanied shower of notes and, once again, the "heavy" beat returns, the swirling strings, the trumpet and piano stating the melody before the falls apart into silence.
For this listener, "Never Bet The Devil Your Head" is great fun and powerful music at the same time. Peter Madsen's Seven Sins Ensemble really dig into the pianist's music and his arrangements bring out the best (and, sometimes, strangest) in their sounds. Delightfully melodic, quite rhythmic, and fairly adventurous, dive in and enjoy!
For more information, go to www.petermadsen.us.