Music Review: America’s National Parks

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by John Malkin

America’s National Parks

Wadada Leo Smith


Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone—the beauty and wild spaces of America’s national parks have long been a focus for visual and audio artists; this year marks 100 years since the park system was established. Wadada Leo Smith’s latest album, America’s National Parks, is inspired by the stellar views and vast landscapes of the parks while the trumpeter/composer digs into spiritual and political realms. Smith’s deeper exploration here is not surprising, given his earlier jazz reflections on democracy and race on albums like Occupy the World and Ten Freedom Summers.

“Our park system has the most beautiful philosophical idea about common sharing,” Smith told S&H. “But unfortunately, career politicians have say-so over it. They parcel out leases to various corporations.” He adds, “The idea of national commonality is a model for politics, socialization, economy—it’s a model for everything! That one idea of setting aside precious land to be held in common by everybody—that should influence every aspect of our lives as human beings.” On the album Smith also suggests the addition of cultural and literary national parks, such as “New Orleans,” “Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920–2002,” and “The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the River.”

America’s National Parks was released shortly before Smith’s 75th birthday in December 2016. The 90-minute 2-CD set offers six extended works of melodic jazz interplay between Smith’s trumpet and cello (Ashley Walters), piano (Anthony Davis), bass (John Lindberg), and drums (Pheeroan akLaff). As Smith summed it up for S&H, “The major things in our lives are the practices of love and forgiveness and understanding that those two acts may lead to something greater for us.” 

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