Wadada Leo Smith's large ensemble Organic made their first appearance on the second disc of his 2009 double CD, Spiritual Dimensions
; this, though, is the group's first set of studio recordings. In the late '90s and early 2000s, Smith co-led the band Yo Miles! with guitarist Henry Kaiser
, reinterpreting (and later writing original music inspired by) the 1970s work of Miles Davis' guitar-heavy electric funk bands. Organic's music is superficially similar to that band's, but with a much greater degree of abstraction (in addition to Smith's trumpet, two saxophones, and up to four electric guitarists, the ensemble features one upright and one electric bassist, a violinist, and two members performing on laptops) and a generally more meditative feel that's likely rooted in the leader's deep and constant spiritual questing. Tracks carry dedications to Don Cherry
and Smith's AACM peer, violinist Leroy Jenkins
, as well as Toni Morrison
and Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, the founder of the Shadhili order of Sufi Muslims who died in 1258. So while the opening "Don Cherry's Electric Sonic Garden" is a 20-minute funk jam, the two-part "The Dhikr of Radiant Hearts" feels more like Davis' "He Loved Him Madly" crossed with John Coltrane
's "Love Consequences Serenity" from Meditations
. The balance between groove and gentle exploration is retained throughout both discs of this nearly two-hour set, and while listening to it as a marathon session may be challenging, there's not a moment here that feels ill-conceived or superfluous. This is a masterwork by one of the great heroes of American avant-garde jazz.