Wadada Leo Smith, student music groups to perform at Impulse Festival

Organizer of the festival discusses the interdisciplinary arts event


The headliner of the week is Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quintet, a jazz group led by Downbeat Magazine’s 2017 Jazz Artist of the Year. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The McIntire Department of Art and the McIntire Department of Music are coming together to host the Impulse Festival of Improvisation. The festival, which began this week, will feature four concerts, an art opening, a student jam session and more. The headliner of the week is Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quintet, a jazz group led by Downbeat Magazine’s 2017 Jazz Artist of the Year.

The festival centers around a four-part concert series, all focused on improvisation as well as varying styles and genres. The first concert will take place Friday night and is titled “Origins,” featuring performances by the University Baroque Orchestra, the University Jazz Small Group and the Swaraprabha Hindustani Classical Indian Vocal Ensemble. This incredibly diverse lineup, including musical roots coming from all over the world, will provide an excellent introduction to the weekend of music.

The festival continues on Saturday afternoon with “Meditations,” a concert featuring individual performances of violin, guitar and piano. The pianist, Anthony Davis, is a member of Wadada Leo Smith’s band the Golden Quintet. The focus in this concert is solo improvisation –– rather than watching an entire band, the audience will have a chance to intently focus on the nuances of one individual’s performance.

The third concert is called “Conversations,” featuring the improvisational ensembles AZUL, EcoSono Ensemble, and the University New Music Ensemble. Acting as a contrasting response to the individual acts of the second concert, “Conversations” will focus on the interplay of musicians and instruments as if they were “conversing” with one another. AZUL features jazz trumpeter John D’earth, the director of the University’s Jazz Studies program, who has also contributed on several recordings with the Dave Matthews Band.

The finale of the concert series and the climax of the festival itself is a multimedia performance combining the music of Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quintet with corresponding imagery of National Parks from around the country. The concert is titled “America’s National Park” and will take place Saturday night in Old Cabell Hall. Attendees can expect a boldly experimental jazz performance, which Smith himself describes as “Creative Music.”

Asst. Arts Administration Prof. George Sampson helped to combine the residency of Wadada Leo Smith with the Impulse Festival and had a few words on what he brings to the festival. 

“This residency, in discussion and planning since February, 2017, will bring our students and members of the Charlottesville community a master African American jazz musician at the peak of his powers,” Sampson said.

Sampson also noted the relevancy of Smith’s African-American and Southern background in relation to recent events in Charlottesville. 

“His upbringing in segregated Mississippi provided a perspective he has never lost and makes his achievements as a trail-blazing musician and theoretician about art in general all the more substantial,” Sampson said. “This residency will give UVA and Charlottesville a special opportunity to appreciate how art can inform and educate on the oblique; rather than hitting one head on, its power to transform sometimes lies in a common space of abstraction and metaphor that is accessible to all.”

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