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Take Five With Rik Wright

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Meet Rik Wright:
A graph of Rik Wright's influences would read like a wave, running a gamut from jazz to rock and back again. As a guitarist he has taken on influences, often subconsciously, as varied as Andy Summers of The Police and John Abercrombie. Compositionally speaking, Wright hangs with a different crowd altogether, mingling instead with the spirits of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. Of this alliterative trio, Miles has been a decidedly conscious influence in terms of process. And in fact, as becomes obvious once you acclimate to its flow, Wright's improvising strikes more of an affinity with horn players than guitarists. As a relatively intervallic, melodic player he prefers his wheat brewed, not shredded. Wright bears the mark of a generation that burned bridges between genres. His latest recordings, Blue in 2013 and Red in 2014, build new bridges in their place.

Fundamental Forces has become the primary stage for its leader's compositions, taking his sound to a deeper and, yes, more fundamental level. The ensemble is a stunning collective of like-minded musicians that boldly follow Wright into haunting and often beautiful soundscapes. Fundamental, too, are the tunes themselves. Blending forward thinking arrangements with a core groove that listeners can tap their toe to, the music allures at every turn. That allure propelled Blue to #21 on the CMJ Jazz radio charts.

Instrument(s):
Electric Guitar

Teachers and/or influences?
John Abercrombie, Jimmy Page, Bill Frisell, Jeff Beck, John Scofield, Andy Summers, Kevin Eubanks & Daniel Lanois.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
My aunt gave me a drum kit when I was six, but I knew I wanted to be a musician when my mother gave me a guitar when I was ten, and with it guitar lessons. By the time I had the first lesson I already had a book of 30 tunes I had written.

Your sound and approach to music:
That's a heavy topic. I guess a feel like a lot of jazz is over complicated. Some of it goes right over the heads of the audience, and becomes musicians playing for musicians.

In writing these most recent recordings, I have tried to strip down my composition to grooves and simple melodies. I try to give my listeners something to tap their toes to and a riff to get stuck in their heads.

That said, I have to pair that approach with my natural tendencies and talents. I tend to write deceptive rhythms that are tied over the bar line, with lots of back beats. I'm a relatively modal player -I tend to have the most to say when I improvise around the cycle of 4ths, and outlining chords in intervals rather scales. I'm much like a horn player that way.

I've also spent years developing my guitar tone and now recognize that no matter what gear you give me, I'm basically going to make it all sound the same. There's a particular sound I project, a wispy sound, with lots of delay and chorus paired with a sloppy aggressive lead tone.

It's just what I hear and I'm done with emulating others. I used to get hung up in being the best musician I could be, and now I've just thrown that away to focus on what it is I do uniquely. There is no need for me to sound like Wes Montgomery or Joe Pass. I just don't do that. Even though I borrow from them, I can't write and play like John Scofield or Bill Frisell. But they can't write and play like me either.

With my music I target people who wouldn't necessarily say they are jazz fans. They like music just as music and not a specific genre. They're okay with a punk sounding guitar over a Mingus tune. They're less interested in how well something is played than if it resonates with their emotions or not. They have fewer preconceptions.

And I'm hitting that target. I make an effort to play as many shows in general nightclubs as jazz venues and a large portion of our audience never frequents the other half. Those non-jazz fans tend to be a lot more excited about the music. They tell me how it makes them feel, what mood it puts them in, what's going on in their lives when they play it and why. They talk about textures and colors and rarely mention the guitar. I like it that way.

Your teaching approach:
I suck when it comes to teaching. I don't have the patience. I'd rather be in a room writing and playing than teaching others. I guess that isn't surprising. I've studied my entire life. In fact, I still take an occasional lesson. Everyone looks at the instrument differently and I always gain from learning someone else's approach. In my experience, however, I have noticed that the best teachers are rarely the best performers and the best performers are very often horrible teachers.

Your dream band:
I have the ideal band I would like to play with: James DeJoie, Geoff Harper and Greg Campbell. All musicians at the top of their game.

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