Wadada Leo Smith/Henry Kaiser/Alex Varty: Pacifica Koral Reef (577 Records/bandcamp)

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Pacifica Koral Reef preview
 Wadada Leo Smith/Henry Kaiser/Alex Varty: Pacifica Koral Reef (577 Records/bandcamp)

Guitarist Alex Varty said this recording from 2018 – a 55 minute improvised piece – began life as what looked like a painting more than a score by trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith who refers to his graphic work as “Ankhrasmation”.

“Ankhrasmation is a musical language, as opposed to a musical notation system,” Smith told music journalist Frank J. Oteri in 2011. “The first part, Ankh, comes from the Egyptian cross. Ras comes from the Ethiopian ‘head’, meaning the leader. And Ma comes from ‘mother'.

“It could be referenced scientifically, according to nature or biology, or it can be referenced according to fantasy, imagination. The only requirement is that the artists that are performing it maintain a high level of sincerity. That’s all it requires.”

So yes, we are in the zone of freely improvised music by three masters in the genre: Guitarists Henry Kaiser and Varty have known each other and Smith since the late Seventies.

And Varty also notes the synaesthetic importance of Smith's graphic scores (which have been exhibited in galleries) because they invite the players to consider colour and shading as much as sound.

And the theme here is evident in the title (both guitarists also happen to be divers), an awareness of gaia and the effects of Man and climate change on the oceans and fragile coral reefs.

However although these players have frequently been associated with the difficult end of the avant-garde, here they play as cohesive and coherent unit with Smith's trumpet closer to the confident long lines and thoughtful ballad style of the young Miles Davis. (Smith recorded a Davis tribute Yo Miles! with Kaiser in the late Nineties).

Smith's concerns are socio-political and global (he studied ethnomusicology as well as embracing global concerns about the environment) but if that sounds weighty, solemn and portentous that is not what is here.

Opening with quiet, almost folk-styled, guitar Pacifica Koral Reef gently feels its way for a full 10 minutes before Smith enters with a welcoming clarion call before embarking on a journey of those long, sustained lines over Kaiser's sub-aquatic chimes and subtle effects. They also shift easily into the blues for a while.

Less a tune/melody than an exploratory journey in sound and evocation (rather psychedelic after the 20 minute mark as Kaiser and Varty rack up the sonics and distortion), Pacifica Koral Reef is a sonic experience which is far less challenging than its performers' reputations in the avant-garde might suggest.

A journey in sound well worth settling in for. 

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These Further Outwhere pages are dedicated to sounds beyond songs, ideas outside the obvious, possibiltiies far from pop. Start the challenge here.

A preview trailer with video animation by Henry Kaiser

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David Trubridge - Jan 10, 2022

This sounds interesting--where can we listen to the whole thing?

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