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The Conversationalists

Wadada Leo Smith and John Lindberg, An die Musik, Dec. 2

DUOPOLY: (from left) John Lindberg and Wadada Leo Smith talk it out.

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 12/14/2005

It’s hard for a room with only 75 seats—even if they are soft, upholstered armchairs, as they are at An die Musik—to afford a quartet or quintet. So Bernard Lyons, who books the jazz for the downtown record store’s second-floor performance space, has been bringing in a lot of duos. On the first Friday of this month, An die Musik featured trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and bassist John Lindberg.

The advantage of the duo format is the chance to hear a one-to-one dialogue between two musicians without any distractions. The danger of the setup is the temptation for a musician to wander off in disregard of what his or her partner is doing. There were examples of both when Smith and Lindberg shared the stage.

Smith is a founding member of Chicago’s legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and more recently has teamed with guitarist Henry Kaiser to lead Yo Miles!, exploring the early-’70s electric music of Miles Davis. When Smith—a short man in bushy Afro, salt-and-pepper beard, and black-leather jacket—crouched, bent-kneed, his S-shape recalled Davis’ posture. And when he squirted out short fragments of enigmatic sound clusters, he recalled Davis’ most avant-garde period.

Upright bassist Lindberg, a co-founder of the String Trio of New York, is as tall as Smith is short and sported a pointed goatee. Rather than play a supporting role, Lindberg tossed spasms of notes back at Smith, sometimes connecting with him and sometimes not.

In the first set, the two played four extended improvisations, much of the time pushing the limits of their instruments. Smith alternated between barely audible, whistling passages and blistering squeals, while Lindberg attacked his four strings with a stick, a bow, and plucking and sliding fingers. At times it sounded more like research than development, but when Smith sustained a tone against Lindberg’s skittery excursions, or when Lindberg maintained a motif against Smith’s trumpet cries, it all paid off.

For the final improv, Smith sat in a chair, stuck a big mute in his horn, and played a lyrical ballad that recalled an earlier era of Davis. While Smith improvised a melodic murmur, Lindberg stuck in just a few notes here and there to hint at a harmonic architecture. After the agitated groping of the first three pieces, this was romantic reprieve, the kind of moment that makes the duo shows at An die Musik so special.

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