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Polymorphism: Sound Is What You Shape It

Jason West By

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AAJ: What qualities do you admire in your fellow band members?

RW: Every single player in my group has two qualities: a massive sense of experimentation coupled with very hefty technical chops. On top of that, I sought out people who were each known for doing their own thing on their instrument. We all swim upstream, so to speak. At our best, any tune can become a game of hot potato where we’re constantly one-upping each other. It’s very hard to have a bad night with these guys. There’s always one smart-ass on the stage who’s going to take a left turn and make everybody think on their toes for the rest of the tune.

AAJ: I caught your show at the Mars Bar with the 4tet and violinist Alicia Allen. At the time, you mentioned she will be joining the band on your regional tour. What additional elements does she bring to the band?

RW: Alicia is a friend of the group who fast became our biggest fan. I’ve performed with her in a few other settings as well. I’m a huge fan of modern improvisational violinists like Jeff Gauthier, Carla Kihlstedt, Eyvind Kang and Jenny Scheinman, and Alicia’s musicality is from that same heritage. It’s another step forward in my quest to blend jazz, rock and folk music into something new altogether.

The addition of Alicia to the group allows the band to get into quieter, more intimate and atmospheric spaces than we were able to achieve before. As you hear from listening to Polymorphism, we already had this wonderful mystery land in our soundscape where the electric guitar, effected acoustic bass, and effected baritone saxophone get very difficult to distinguish from each other. This is how we create those unique spaces in our music where the listener is presented with dreamy timbres they’ve likely never heard before. The tonal values of a violin perfectly complement this sonic palette, and yet it maintains its own unique voice as well. We get into these uniquely lyrical conversations between the violin and the other instruments.

I had a handful of new compositions sitting around that I wasn’t sure how to orchestrate, and the additional voice of the violin opened up new possibilities that I found incredibly inspiring. We’re finishing up supporting Polymorphism as a quintet under the moniker "4tet+1", but in December we’ll be recording the new material for an upcoming release. After that I’m going to rename the band as "Rik Wright’s Zen Tornado" to get us away from a group name that indicates a particular genre of music.

AAJ: HipSync Records has functioned as a label and production company. Describe the origin and development of HipSync.

RW: HipSync Records was founded in 1998 by myself and drummer/producer Simon Grant. We recognized the massive amount of talent in the Seattle music scene and put together HipSync as a cooperative chartered with giving more adventurous Northwest acts the opportunity to get their work out to a broad listening public. Over the years we’ve had some 30 or so people involved with the label’s efforts. And to clear up one common misperception, we’re not just a jazz label. We’re not even primarily a jazz label. We select our artists by the criterion that all forms of modern jazz, electronica, free improvisation, and more experimental examples of popular and instrumental music are considered.

We started out promoting small shows in coffee bars and art galleries, and selling self-produced CDs at local record stores and live performances. We’ve curated concert series at venues like The OK Hotel, Sit and Spin, Speakeasy Café, Tula’s, and most recently The Mars Bar. In fact we’ve just extended our “Electric Bebop” series at Cafe Venus/The Mars Bar to run through the end of the year. Currently our roster includes art-rock band Awkward Star, saxophone colossus Dan Blunck, free jazz trio Disjunkt, out-jazzers Free Consultation, free improvisation group Kallisti, experimental electronica duo Obelus, and The Tony Grasso Saxophone Quartet. We have released and internationally distributed a dozen recordings and promoted over 100 events in Seattle, Portland and Olympia.

AAJ: How has the local club scene changed in the last few years?

RW: Well, obviously there are a lot fewer premium clubs going on now than there used to be. Starting with the 2001 earthquake, which single-handedly killed the Pioneer Square scene, and then the dot-com bust, September 11th, and now the economic “recovery”—more and more venues have folded until there are just a handful of decent stages left. However, in response to all that, there seems to be a strong sense of community rising. New venues are starting to open up and coffee shops and pubs have started to take up the slack in promoting new music. There also seems to be an artistic curiosity present in the audience lately. I’m guessing this in response to the crash of the popular music industry and just plain boring nature of commercial radio. The last two years really sucked for the Seattle music scene, but we’re coming out of it now. The thing that I most like about this town is that people aren’t afraid to take chances and go against the mainstream. There’s a history of unrecognized brilliance here, and the next Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain types will be drawn here by that same vibe. There’s a ton happening in Seattle these days in many different genres. I think the next two years are going to be a very interesting time to be listening to music in Seattle clubs!

Visit Rick Wright on the web at www.rikwright.com .


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