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Jack Wright / Ben Wright: as if anything could be the same

Dave Wayne By

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It's only apropos that I am writing this review on Father's Day. As if anything could be the same is a duet album by the father and son team of saxophonist Jack Wright and contrabassist Ben Wright . In the world of improvised music, or non-idiomatic improvised music if one must, Jack Wright is a seminal figure. A self-taught bluegrass and folk musician as a youth, and later a history professor at Temple University, Wright's trajectory out of "normal" life coincided with his burgeoning political activism during the early 1970s. His subsequent involvement in improvised music followed soon after, though his first recording (Free Life Singing , Spring Garden Music, 1982) didn't appear until the early 1980s. All along, Wright has been a tireless champion of improvised music, actively seeking out gigs in remote areas where exposure to improvised music was nil; a veritable Johnny Appleseed of improvisation.

Wright's style has evolved quite remarkably over the years. Initially playing in an ecstatic free jazz style, Wright's interests changed as he drew closer to the improvised music scenes in Germany and the United Kingdom. During the 1990s, Wright again changed direction; this time quite radically. With like-minded and often much younger players such as saxophonist Bhob Rainey and trumpeters Greg Kelley and Tom Djll, he began emphasizing space, texture, sustained tones, and non-saxophone-like sounds to develop frighteningly sparse, desolate musical landscapes.

The past 10 or 15 years have seen Wright returning to the physicality and phrasing of jazz saxophone, though his approach is markedly gentler and more lyrical than it once was. Today, his most frequent partner is his son, Ben, a bassist of considerable skill and a broad-minded musical thinker who has performed and recorded everything from punk rock to folk to modern jazz. While detailed written descriptions of the music on As if anything could be the same don't really serve much purpose, suffice it to say that this music is refreshingly diverse. In a flash, the music can go from the seemingly familiar to the determinedly bizarre. There are passages that don't sound much like music as we know it, and there are passages of unmistakable virtuosity.

"As If" is contrapuntal and interactive, perhaps the most conventionally jazz-like piece on the album. Here, Jack's burnished soprano tone is (unintentionally) reminiscent of Steve Lacy, and the interplay with his son's arco bass is playful, even whimsical. Each piece, however, unfolds in its own unique way as father and son test each other then pause for a brief embrace, ignore and then listen intently to some disembodied inner voice, never truly following and yet never purposely diverging. Each piece, however, has more than a few gem-like moments of clarity, where the musical whole is more than the sum of the parts.


Track Listing: As If; Anything; Could; Be; The Same.

Personnel: Jack Wright: alto and soprano saxophones; Ben Wright: contrabass.

Title: as if anything could be the same | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Relative Pitch Records

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