Wright_span3
January/February 2007

Frank Wright
Unity
ESP-Disk

Not a reissue but a blazing, heretofore unreleased set culled from the ESP vaults, Frank Wright’s Unity captures the late tenor saxophonist’s quartet in the prime of their post-Ayler, caterwauling explorations. Recorded on June 1, 1974 at the Moers Festival in Germany, the line-up consists of Wright on sax, bells and vocals, Alan Silva on bass, the underrated Bobby Few on piano and the hard-hitting Muhammad Ali on drums and percussion. For those looking for introspective, lyrical passages, look elsewhere: This set—broken into two parts—is a perfect, if slightly predictable, example of the “Fire Music” (as pioneered by Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and post-1964 Coltrane) that so alienates the jazz mainstream. From the moment Ali introduces the piece with heavy cymbal accentuations, clanging metallic percussion and the thunderous bass drum thudding he’s known for, the intensity and momentum never stop.

Wright quickly swoops in with a demented-yet-fierce marching-band theme a la “Bells” or “Spirits Rejoice,” constantly developing it despite wailing at full volume. Few, certainly a disciple of Cecil Taylor and peer to Dave Burrell, colors the performance with a chromatic torrent of notes and jarring block chords, occasionally quoting the Chinese pentatonic scale, reminiscent of his composition “China” [off Wright’s One for John (BYG, 1969)]. Silva provides a steady foundation while also contributing texture with his exceptional arco playing.

The ensemble communicates with the effortless interaction of four men who have been playing together for years, with each instrument naturally weaving in and out of the mix. The solos even reflect this unbound energy, especially the Ali percussion barrage that sounds like a stampede of murderously rabid cattle. Though the unadventurous and faint-of-heart would surely disagree, there is much beauty to discover here, as is usually the case with such demon-exorcising music.

Originally published in January/February 2007
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