The late Frank Wright focused on one aspect of Albert Ayler's work and attempted to run with it, but energy alone, however, as Ayler understood, was not a foundation strong enough to build the kind of music that holds attention. Unity, a previously unissued release which documents a live performance by Wright's quartet at the Moers festival on June 1, 1974, is an apt case in point. This music seems to lose all sense of direction early on, resulting in a sprawling mess lacking the rigour which makes the music of the likes of Fred Anderson or Kidd Jordan, say, so compelling.
A few bars into his extended solo on "Unity Part 1, Wright is all over the proceedings, spewing out streams of notes without rhyme or reason and seemingly oblivious to the contributions of his bandmates. The results are as much a product of crude machismo as any higher concerns, and Wright's apparently spiritual approach to making music seems only like so much hyperbole.
The quality of the recording renders Alan Silva's bass inaudible for long passages. When he can be heard soloing, he at least alleviates the need to try and concentrate on what is essentially four voices engaging in a simultaneous primal scream. Pianist Bobby Few's work does provide some leavening in the bleak proceedings, and his solo on "Unity Part 1 is a model of light and shade in comparison to everything else, although when Wright marks its end by tootling on either harmonica or melodica, the music enters a realm of absurdity.
"Unity Part 2 opens with Wright imposing his will on what might have been a soprano sax. His efforts start at point A and falter badly long before he reaches point B, making the business of figuring out exactly what instrument it is just too much effort. The form of this part, such as it is, differs slightly from part one in the sense that some collective screaming gets a look in before Few puts in a spot of keyboard pounding that evokes visions of the crudest hoedown. Given the broader context this takes place in, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to whether or not it was an attempt at humour.
There was undoubtedly some kind of atmosphere shared between band and audience on this occasion, but unfortunately none of it has been preserved on Unity, any more than the fact that these musicians proved and have proven themselves capable of a whole lot more than the one trick on offer here.
Unity Part 1; Unity Part 2.
Frank Wright: tenor saxophone; Bobby Few: piano; Alan Silva: bass; Muhammad Ali: drums.
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