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Reedman Frank Wright's eponymous first album surfaced on ESP-Disk in 1965, so it is fitting that this historic live recording also appears on the newly-revived imprint, making good its mission of releasing unheard sessions by label stalwarts, alongside newer works. Though dedicated to his erstwhile employer, saxophonist Albert Ayler
's club, Ali's Alley, in the heart of the downtown New York loft scene on the night of Wright's brief homecoming in 1974 after a sojourn in Europe, the scratch band assembled for the event sounds anything but.
Though it's an expansive performance, demarcated into six parts on the CD, which offers room for everyone to stretch out, they do so without overindulgence. Wright concocts a visceral excitement from a blend of strangulated cries and overblown shrieks. He's matched in intensity by Ali behind the traps and James Blood Ulmer
on electric guitar. Indeed, the power barely abates through the first half hour, until bassist Benny Wilson comes to the fore in "Part 4" for a lengthy extended bowed soliloquy of undulating melodicism which holds the attention better than many such interludes. Thereafter, rather than urging each other on, Wright and Ulmer continue in more of a conversational dialogue, albeit one of incendiary character. There's a lovely exchange reminiscent of clucking hens towards the end of "Part 5," which must have brought smiles to the faces of the audience.
In fact, with his ferocious combination of jazz, rock and funk voicings, Ulmer is as much the album's dominant voice as Wright, spewing forth a stream of molten fuzzed guitar gobbets. His choppy, chiming underpinning meshes well with Ali's churning pulse, neither serving to constrain the saxophonist. Although the sound is slightly distant, it passes muster for a live date of this vintage, with every instrument distinct and audible, though Wilson's urgent counterpoint becomes subliminal during the more energetic passages. Nonetheless the set easily merits release and forms a substantive if belated addition to the discography of Wright, who died in 1990.
Track Listing: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6.
Personnel: Franks Wright: tenor saxophone, flute and vocals; James Blood Ulmer: guitar; Benny Wilson: bass; Rashied Ali: drums.