Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is an invaluable duet partner, in constant demand for his mastery of many genres, his fount of enjoyably challenging phrases and conceptions, and his comfort with open spaces and relaxed tempi. His stylistic approach naturally accommodates both Miles Davis and Chicago’s avant-garde AACM collective, of which Smith was once a member.
Born in 1972, pianist Angelica Sanchez is 31 years younger than Smith and a member of two of his ensembles, the Golden Quartet and the Organic big band, yet there is barely a trace of any mentor/pupil relationship during Twine Forest. The eight songs are all Sanchez compositions and recognizably true to her preference for episodic and open-ended narratives and reflective mood-shifts. Her comfort zone is one of rooted intricacy, as evidenced by her titles — the album Wires and Moss preceded Twine Forest, which features songs such as “Veinular Rub” and “Retinal Sand.” There are times when she and Smith engage in classic duet dialog, as on the robust title track, which begins as a good-natured squabble, and then settles into more contented animation. “Veinular Rub” is more impressionistic, intent on creating sounds and textures not normally associated with trumpet and piano, yet not at the expense of fully engaged musical communication. “Retinal Sand” is brash and percussive until Smith opts for a luminous contrast. There are exchanges within most of the songs that provide a different shade, or segue to another motif, so that what is improvised and what is through-composed is moot.
One of the abiding virtues of this music, which is not coincidentally typical of other Sanchez and Smith recordings, is the blend of curiosity and self-assurance, creating a spirit of relaxed creativity. This pair ventures out on many a limb in Twine Forest, but one never gets the sense they will lose their balance.