Credit: Michael Jackson

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, who turned 80 earlier this year, is seemingly at the height of his creative life—despite having already catalogued decades of accomplishments across dozens of releases, both in the company of AACM masters and as a bandleader. In May he issued a pair of three-disc sets, one focused on solo trumpet and the other on his work with bassist Bill Laswell and late drummer Milford Graves. He’s since put out a recording with Chicago players (Sun Beans of Shimmering Light with Douglas R. Ewart and Mike Reed), worked with larger New York ensembles (including during a residency at the New School), premiered compositions for strings, and livestreamed several concerts. On his new Pacifica Koral Reef, Smith collaborates with a pair of guitarists, west-coast improviser Henry Kaiser and Canadian arts critic Alex Varty. The trio adhere to the path set out in one of Smith’s visual scores, a system the trumpeter developed more than 50 years ago and has dubbed “Ankhrasmation.” The lone 55-minute track that comprises Pacifica Koral Reef is related to the ideas and emotions summoned during Varty and Kaiser’s regular diving trips in British Columbia’s Salish Sea and under the ice in Antarctica, respectively. Varty opens the album with delicate guitar soli, and for almost ten minutes he creates a calming sense of peaceful expansiveness. Smith’s entrance on the track doesn’t erase that feeling; instead his burnished brass complements Varty’s strings with yelps and wavering long tones. The eventual addition of what sounds like pitched electronics (actually Kaiser’s guitar) puts listeners on notice: Pacifica Koral Reef offers a singular approach to electroacoustic improvisation. While Kaiser cuts loose at times, Pacifica Koral Reef is a rare glimpse at a trio largely denying the extremes frequently associated with orchestrated improvisation, as each player swims through Smith’s score and embraces a liquid sense of time.

Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Kaiser, and Alex Varty’s Pacifica Koral Reef is available on Bandcamp.