An Upset Either Way: Steve Lehman And Wadada Leo Smith Triumph

By Francis Davis
Dec 19, 2014
Could anyone have predicted that Steve Lehman and Wadada Leo Smith would place first and second in this year's NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, among a field including previous winners Sonny Rollins, Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran, plus 2011 runner-up (and favorite going in) Ambrose Akinmusire? Not me, and I even had Lehman and Smith on my ballot, along with Rollins and Akinmusire.

Let's not be naïve: The jazz mainstream is wherever the major labels say it is at any given moment (even when they say, as they do periodically, that jazz is strictly nowhere) and Lehman's Mise en Abîme and Smith's The Great Lakes Suite landed left-of-mainstream both musically and by provenance. They're each small-label releases, one of them (Great Lakes) from Finland, no less.