Rik Wright’s Fundamental Forces – Red (2014)

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Red is the second in a trilogy of albums by Seattle-based guitarist Rik Wright (the first one was last year’s Blue), and it’s not at all difficult to ascertain what’s up with the color theme. Wright, along with his Fundamental Forces quartet, has managed two albums in a row that almost defies categorization, mainly because it is both intensely improvisational and full of vivid, tonal hues.

Wright’s been in the music business for decades, but in the aftermath of a serious injury that sidelined him for a while, so he spent the downtime developing a vision for his own music. For Wright, this meant tamping down the brute force of rock and the off-to-the-races speed of bop to let the songs flow freely and breathe. At least, that’s the impression left from Blue and again on Red (November 11 2014, Hipsync Records). To help actualize this vision, Wright enlisted musicians who bought into the plan in James DeJoie (woodwinds, flute), Geoff Harper (acoustic bass) and Greg Campbell (drums, percussion).

Citing Jeff Beck and Jim Hall and equally strong influences, Wright’s own music walks a tightrope between the forces of jazz and jazz-rock. The closest parallel that come to mind is John Abercrombie’s Gateway with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, due primarily to the interplay and the spaciousness of the sound. And yes, Wright’s guitar style reveals some similarities to Abercrombie’s, too. I hear that mostly on the spectral guitar intro that ushers in “Subtle Energy” and his thoughtful atmospheric expressions during the introspective, hovering “Synesthesia.”

The slowly burning groove of “(She’s So) Fragmented” is really a simple vamp, but what Wright and his band do with it is the key point. Careful modulation (particularly during DeJoie’s alto sax solo) and rich tones emanating from Wright’s guitar take the center stage. And when Wright takes his turn to solo, it’s so unlike anyone else; he’s fearless and takes chances. As the title might suggest, “Yearning” is wistful and led by DeJoie’s melancholy clarinet; Campbell lends Paul Motian-like phrasing that’s attuned to the melody line more so than the meter.

“Single Angularity” is where all of this combo’s strengths and traits are summoned. The melody is a journey that revisits certain stops at different intervals, beginning with a downbeat groove over which DeJoie (again on alto sax) ruminates. Campbell builds up steam again, pushing DeJoie to get louder and rangier, and the drummer crosses over into a strident rock beat. Wright’s extended turn contrasts sharply with the saxophonist’s in its gentler tact, but subtleties and emotion flourish in his resonant figures.

Music is, after all, colors rendered in audio. Rik Wright and his Fundamental Forces are on a mission to make that connection self-evident. Halfway through, he’s doing a convincing job of that.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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