Wadada Leo Smith’s new album Najwa features four compositions in tribute to past masters of creative music, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Billie Holiday, as well as the title composition ”Najwa” in remembrance of a love lost. Compared to Smith’s prior recordings, the presence of four guitarists and Bill Laswell’s electric bass create a unique sound world and fluidity for the music.
The first two extended compositions that open the album are dedications to two great masters of creative music, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, and each takes the form of a mini-suite. “Each has a second movement within the context of the overall shape,” says Smith. “They’re shaped like miniature suites within the context of a single album. And then the whole album has the shape of a tribute. It’s all about people and, therefore, it’s also organically unified, based around these people who I respect.” Next is the brief but touching “Najwa,” followed by a dedication to the sometime drummer of Smith’s Golden Quartet, Ronald Shannon Jackson.
In addition to the guitars, Bill Laswell’s electric bass takes a central role in the sonic world of Najwa and Laswell also played an important part in the post-production and mixing of the music on the album. Smith says that he enjoyed “the idea of making this session and then going back and re-recording some of the areas and then sitting down with Bill and allowing him to tweak it in certain ways and re-reference it in a whole different way. I very much like that notion, that idea or that philosophy.” This was the first time Smith and Laswell recorded together but their collaborations have continued both live and in the recording studio.