Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rik Wright's Fundamental Forces, Subtle Energy

Subtle Energy
Rik Wright’s Fundamental Forces
Hipsync Records (2016) 

by Raul da Gama
In the fast-flowing torrents of contemporary music, it isn’t often that a musician – especially a guitarist – is brawny enough to stop and re-examine something that has already been successfully done by him or herself once already. Somehow, Rik Wright always seems up for a challenge. In every one of his past recordings he seems to jump at the idea of ‘zigging’ when everyone else suggests that he ‘zag’. This often means that Mr Wright is even up for doing something that does not suggest itself naturally to him. Clearly this is the intent of his performance on Subtle Energy, a record on which he recasts music from three earlier albums, this time around transcribing the music for clarinet and bass clarinet instead of the regular woodwinds of their incarnations. 

Pat Metheny once tore through his musical experiments on an album that envisaged a scenario where the whole of his sound-world was turned upside down. The album in question was his 1994 Geffen production Zero Tolerance for Silence. Distortion and musical mayhem was the name of the game there. While Rik Wright’s Subtle Energy does not veer that far into the aural universe it certainly veers far left of where his compunctions lie. Here, Mr. Wright’s tempi do not broach Pat Metheny’s zany extremes, but some of the things that Rik Wright does on this 2016 album are abjectly unorthodox. Anyone expecting a mellifluous outpouring of melody will be hugely surprised by Mr. Wright’s diving headlong into an angular sonic refraction of sound between the woody timbres of the clarinet and – on “Nonchalant” – the bass clarinet and the reverberating echo of eerily announced chords on his guitar. 

The dynamism of “Yearning” soars above the proverbial footlights in appropriately operatic fashion, even though the slow unwinding of the lyrical calm of the piece thins when the bass clarinet falls silent. However, Rik Wright is quick to pick up the slack and occupy more of the sonic space albeit without overcrowding it. The guitarist’s dry-point traversal of the music that follows underlines the intrinsic humor of piece in a way that might give guitar purists pause yet might also elicit a knowing wink from the composer. Rik Wright’s spacy and astute timing, and sensitive harmonic pointing enliven the rest of the piece, especially with the return of the clarinet to the proceedings. However, it’s only for a short while before the guitarist takes flight again.

There is further proof that Rik Wright can play simply and directly when he chooses to can be found on his intuitive dynamic scaling of “Patience,” where he brings out the main theme’s music-box sensibility to otherworldly effect. In the cantering rhythm of the piece that never falters despite its precariously slow tempo, Rik Wright’s overall presentation of this music proves equally provocative. He seems to order each piece not only according to time, but also to key signature. Moreover, the invention of fanciful song titles does much to also steer the music into the realm of enigmatic prose. Check out this release if you want guitar music with a twist.     
Tracks: Butterfly Effect; Subtle Energy; Yearning; Nonchalant; Patience.

Personnel: Rik Wright: guitar; James DeJoie: clarinet and bass clarinet; Geoff Harper: acoustic and electric bass; Greg Campbell: drums.

Christer Fredriksen, Vit

Christer Fredriksen
Losen Record (2017)

by Stamish Malcuss

Norwegian guitarist Christer Fredriksen’s new album Vit finds him creating a continued unique sound is his next-in-line of an ever-growing discography.  This time his new offering Vit explores soundscapes in a single take, utilizing a loop pedal and three guitar amps (along with guest performers on two tracks). It's his most spontaneous record to date, with only a tad of jazz in the mixture – well to be honest it’s about a tad of many genres in the mixture.

Loops are being used often in the jazz genre today, but what is refreshing about Fredriksen’s approach is his loops typically are not presented in a repetitive way.  An example is the opener "Preludium" loops are used to create a spacious, reverberant quality, which Fredriksen then plays over melodically.

"The Day I Lived" broods a spiraling overdriven guitar melody suggestive of another great Norwegian guitar pioneer, ECM stalwart Terje Rypdal. The ringing guitar sound of "Five Drops of Love" leads into "Go With the Grain," the heaviest track in the set.  This is where guests artists percussionist Jan Erik Pettersen, as well as keyboards by Kenneth Silden (who also contributes to "Flow") add to the overall density of the sound with great result. "Flow" offers a folksy lyricism almost an ala Pat Metheny vibe, while "I Did Nothing" is a more avant garde wall of clamor, with short repeating backwards loops and boisterous guitar noises a plenty. "Raindancer" harkens another guitar great Bill Frisell and Dave King, a more Americana sound is at hand.

Vit may mark Fredriksen's debut as a crack loop improviser, though not a new idea – in the hands of Frederiksen, it certainly bears its own originality. 

Track Listing: Preludium; The Day I Lived; Five Drops of Love; Go With the Grain; Underwater Birth; Flow; I Did Nothing; Raindancer; Meditation for Tina. 

Personnel: Christer Fredriksen: guitar; Kenneth Silden: keyboards (tracks 4 & 6); Jan Erik Pettersen: percussion samples (track 4).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Greg Hatza, Diggin' Up My Roots

by Raul da Gama

Diggin Up My Roots
Greg Hatza ORGANization
Flip Records

Greg Hatza’s name may not be the first one to leap to mind when, ordinarily, discussion turns to the organ, but among those in the know, his foundational knowledge of the blues explodes when his fingers touch the keyboard of the Nord C2D. On the aptly titled Diggin Up My Roots Hatza bows low as he doffs his proverbial hat to the grandmasters, Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, as well as to vocalists such as Lloyd Price and Percy Mayfield and Ray Charles, to name but a few other icons of the soulful idiom of rhythm and blues. This album not only does away with the conventional ‘organ trio’ format which is frequently favoured by the restless fingers of men like Joey DeFrancesco, Jared Gold and others, but also adds to the guitar and drums, an additional lead voice in the form of the saxophone. Of course Peter Faize, who plays the instrument, is a foil to Hatza, who augments his organ playing with vocals that are soulfully rendered.

There are just eleven charts on this refreshing survey of rhythm and blues music and many of these songs from songbooks that remain undeservedly neglected. Hatza is a largely unheralded instrumentalist, but he has remarkable technical polish and command of the notoriously difficult instrument which he has cultivated through two strong albums and many performances of studied interpretations of organ classics. Cases in point are Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman and Jimmy Smith’s eternal classic Back at the Chicken Shack. On both Hatza’s tapered phrase endings, tiny breath pauses and occasional not elongations sound arch and mannered. Elsewhere Hatza is direct and follows a more songful ebb and flow, providing a softer timbre, in the process making the instrument sound suaver and more rounded in its sonority. All through the process, of course, Hatza infuses his playing with detached articulations and subtle harmonic stresses, both conveyed with admirable expressive economy and viscous notes.

Similarly, Hatza’s scrupulous authentic vocalising of rhythm and blues, and the balances between hands and vocal chords throughout this recording finds more animated reception from his guitarist Brian Kooken and saxophonist Peter Fraize, while the group’s drummer Robert Shahid holds down the rock-steady rhythm all on his own most times. Talk about having two sets of arms and you would be talking of Shahid’s ability to tap out a melodic line as well as keep time and tempo together all at once. However, the magical aspect of this album remains Hatza’s petulant arpeggios which inspire greater dynamism and dramatic thrust as the choruses’ heat up midway through each chart. The organist’s elegance and subtle tonal gradations particularly shine in Johnny Otis’ iconic piece Hand Jive; listen to how he appears to throw the introspective phrases away while moving over the bar-lines or the sense of weightless propulsion he generates in the churning rhythms of Lloyd Price’s Stagger Lee

This is only the beginning of Hatza’s career and already he seems to have produced his finest CD yet, and one hopes that he’ll set down more keyboard works redolent in the quiet screaming of the organ in due course.

Tracks: Baltimore Strut; Big Big Back; High Heel Sneakers; Headin on Down South; I Got a Woman; Back at the Chicken Shack; Night Train; Please Send Me Someone to Love; Hand Jive; Something You Got; Stagger Lee.  

Personnel: Greg Hatza: Nord C2D, vocals; Robert Shahid: drums; Brian Kooken: guitar; Peter Fraize: saxophone.