This duo has established its own abstract-concrete musical space. In a mature dimension, magic can be produced like this, using spurs to ramble to a cosmic organon: essential fruits of a long life. As demanding as they are pleasing. World-class calm.
Despite its rarity, the constellation of trumpet and drums as a duo does have a small tradition: in 1969, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell; in 1997, Bill Dixon and Tony Oxley. Here, Smith enters the intimacy of a duo, a place where Miles Davis never dared to go. Yet Davis's legacy shimmers through in Smith's happy interplay with Sommer.
Leo Smith, Peter Kowald and Günter 'Baby' Sommer first played together in West Berlin in 1979. As the sleevenotes to this superb release point out, Sommer had worked a lot with hi-energy saxophonists such as Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann, a model which Smith's cooler trumpet playing didn't fit. But both are listening players, and their partnership developed and flourished. Now, when Smith and Sommer play together, the bassist's chair is left empty, in memory of the irreplaceable Kowaid. "Bass-Star Hemispheres" 'is this album's dedication to him - a fragile, wistful melody interpreted by Smith, with Sommer on gongs and bells as well as trap kit.
The trumpet/drums duo is rare, despite classics as Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell's Mu, and Bill Dixon ft Tony Oxley's Papyrus, and I noted Wisdom's 65 minute length with a little trepidation. The worry proved groundless: only modestly augmented with electronics and exotic percussion, Smith and Sommer have created an orchestral masterpiece that rivals those fine products of the genre. Miles Davis's legacy is clear, especially in Smith's Harmon-muted playing - it's interesting how the Davis model, once so distinctive, has become pervasive - but even so, his originality is not in question. Smith has always stressed the interdependence of composition and improvisation, and on these pieces the sense of form is palpable. On "Woodland Tale To The Giants", he deploys subtle electronics - more prominent on "Rain Cycles" - while Sommer is on large slit drum, with a deep woody tone. "Tarantella Rusticana" is reminiscent of the folk material from Zentralquartett's splendid 11 Songs on lntakt from 2006, which featured Sommer. With such a variety of moods, timbres and textures, this album grips the listener from first to last note and drumbeat.
ANDY HAMILTON, The Wire, April 2007
Brass and drums make for a seemingly ungainly duo, but when it’s Smith and Sommer fielding the respective instruments the foreignness of the framework swiftly dissipates. Recorded at a Swiss studio in the fall of last year, Wisdom in Time brings the simple adage of its title to aural life. The pair sounds deeply aware of the lineage that extends from Eldridge and Stoller through Dixon and Oxley, bringing with them a collaborative connection that is thirty years young. Sommer is one of the most melodic and orchestrally attuned percussionists on the planet. His project choices are highly selective and this date with Smith is no different, a session positioned for success even before sticks strike skins and lips touch mouthpiece.
Sommer’s all-inclusive kit play commonly alleviates any pangs arising from absent instruments, but in this particular case, a lingering lacuna is palpable. The session carries both formal and extempore dedications to deceased bassist Peter Kowald, with whom the duo worked with as trio. Smith and Sommer achieve a beautiful union throughout the program, engaging in at times near-extrasensory repartee, but it’s difficult not to miss the presence of Kowald and reflect on the magnificence of the trio’s earlier albums for FMP. Mirroring such a ruminative mood, “A Sonic Voice Enclosed in Wind” opens almost like an invocational; Smith’s muted bell spitting out crinkled notes and viscous smears as Sommer shapes fluid accents on chimes, cymbals and snare. “Tarantella Rusticana” moves the two into more song-based structures with Sommer’s symphonic sensibilities given free reign through a series of lush gong washes. His tuneful singing later in the piece weaves in an out of Smith’s crenellated runs and undulating frame drum rhythms.
Smith also dusts off a small battery of electronics to further color the music, holding back in the disc’s first half and waiting to dip into his Milesean bag most fully on the luminous “Woodland Trail to the Giants” and the sci-fi saturated “Rain Cycles”. Throughout the set, Sommer shades with mallets, conches and woodblocks, the peripheral percussion surrounding his kit just as crucial to the pair’s shared concepts as the standard cymbals, snare and toms. He even plays a bit of convincing vaudevillian harmonica on the coda to the aforementioned “Cycles”. As is the Intakt credo, the recording is crisp and vividly rendered with all the nooks and crevices of the music plainly audible. Wherever his spirit now resides, Kowald must be smiling at the musical camaraderie so in evidence between his friends.
Derek Taylor, Bagatellen, June 2007
All compositions by Wadada Leo Smith (Kiom Music, Ascap) and Günter Baby Sommer (GEMA). Recorded Mai 22, 23, 2006 by Willy Strehler at Studio Klangdach, Guntershausen, Switzerland. Mixed and mastered November 2006 by Willy Strehler and Günter Sommer. Liner notes by Oliver Schwerdt. Cover art by Gerda Lepke. Grafic design by Jonas Schoder. Photos by Francesca Pfeffer, Andreas Tittmann. Produced by Intakt Records. Executive production:
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Verisimilitude was at the top of my "Top Ten Records of 2017".
Can't wait for the vinyl version to arrive. Hebeloma Crustuliniforme