Deerhoof Team Up With Avant-Jazz Master Wadada Leo Smith: Hear - Rolling Stone
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Deerhoof and Wadada Leo Smith’s ‘Breakup Songs’ Is Musical Democracy in Action

Art-rock heroes join forces with the avant-jazz trumpet veteran on a new Bandcamp-only live LP benefiting Black Lives Matter

deerhoof wadada leo smith

A new live album documents a 2018 meeting between Deerhoof and the avant-jazz trumpet master Wadada Leo Smith.

Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images; Robin Little/Redferns/Getty Images

In a way, there are two Deerhoofs: the killer rock band and the anything-goes experimental collective. For around 25 years, they’ve been churning out albums full of skewed yet tuneful songs (see the great new Future Teenage Cave Artists). Alongside that, together and separately, the members have joined forces with avant-garde luminaries from Ensemble Dal Niente to Matana Roberts and Anthony Braxton. On an upcoming Bandcamp-only release — To Be Surrounded By Beautiful, Curious, Breathing, Laughing Flesh Is Enough, a title borrowed from Walt Whitman — we’ll get to hear a little of both, as the band teams up with master trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith for part of a live set that went down at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge in 2018.

Out now is a version of “Breakup Songs,” the quasi–title track from Deerhoof’s 2012 full-length Breakup Song. The piece finds Smith — who’s appeared in plugged-in, guitar-heavy contexts for decades, including the Miles Davis tribute project Yo Miles! — adding his ecstatic brass blasts to a walloping groove from bassist-singer Satomi Matsuzaki, guitarists Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich, and drummer Greg Saunier. Just before the one-minute mark, the song cracks wide open, giving way to a free-form improv tangle. After a brief pause, where Matsuzaki delivers a dramatic “Anyway …,” the full band comes crashing back in, playing bumper cars with the rhythm as the performance winds to a breathless close. It’s a thrilling two minutes and a hell of an appetizer for the full release.

The musicians are donating all proceeds from the song to Black Lives Matter. “Black Lives Matter has been doing fantastic work in keeping the rights and the liberty issues up-front in the minds of the Americans and international peoples,” Smith said in a statement. “I think that BLM organization is an excellent place to give support to and to help bring democratic practices into the American society. Since in today’s world, true democracy is not practiced anywhere on the planet.”

Saunier ties Smith’s words to the spirit of the album, a document of a night when musicians from different scenes come together and made magic in the moment.

“Part of what makes touring life so great was how unpredictable it is,” Saunier adds. “All the unexpected encounters, promoters and audiences and performers willing to take a risk. That’s what playing together with Wadada was for us. The corporate world seems to want to define ‘musician’ as ‘internet content competitor’ but the actual people who make music have to find ways out of that trap. That’s why I’m touched that a master improviser like Wadada would bring up true democracy. To me, democracy and improvisation are linked, and they appear spontaneously at times like these, when strangers come together to take action, and there is no rulebook.”

On June 16th, in honor of Juneteenth, Bandcamp will donate its entire share of profits to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. To browse other titles featuring black artists, go here. Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.

In This Article: Deerhoof, Jazz, Song You Need to Know

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