A lot of 'fusion' CDs in the IN tray this month, but this one's the best of the lot, largely because it's the most forward-thinking. Please don't misunderstand, I'm a jazz-rock maven since The Fourth Way was around in the late 1960s, but the very idea of mixing Jazz scales with rock instrumentation and dynamics was supposed to be innovative. And it was. But at some point, I forget when, I moved on to modern classical, Ornette, Matt Shipp, etc., because that's where the stuff I hadn't heard before was. As a result I think the only real fusion bands around now who still maintain that sense of rudely combined elements are such as Birdsongs Of the Mesozoic, Elliot Sharp's Carbon, Doctor Nerve, the Gianluigi Trovesi Octet, The Science Group... and the Rik Wright 4Tet. Well, those are all the ones I can recall just at this moment. Wright, reviewed in these pages about a year ago for his previous CD, ISOMORPHISM, ice-picked my ears because he combined the Alpha Centauri Jazz funk of the early 1970s' Herbie Hancock Sextet (MWANDISHI, CROSSINGS, SEXTANT) and a techno-oriented rock feel that Radiohead would feel right at home with.
"Scatterbrained" is a good case in point since we find the bassist James Whiton grinding out a meterless riff that never seems to land anywhere, yet the 'funk' feel remains largely because he's running his bass signal through an effects box not unlike one we've heard Dominic Duval use. Wright uses a drifting, sideways attack in his solo that's equally hard to place within the composition (that may be the effect he was reaching for, of course) but James DeJoie's gutbucket tenor blast (somebody recalls Illinois Jacquet, even if this does somewhat resemble Illinois achieving hyperspace) rips the song open and we have merely 12 or 16 bars to get ourheads back on our necks before the bouncy melody linetakes us out. Just phenomenal. These fellows refuse to hide behind their toys, I'll have you understand: "Minor You"opens with a lengthy Whiton statement free of all electroniuc gimcracks, and a meditative joy it is: clouding in thereafter is Wright in all his glory, ballooning massive cirrus formations a la David Torn. Beautiful commentary from DeJoie alongside same, very Debussy. Cymbal splashes and other surface noise are courtesy of Simon Grant, who is the main 'rock'-oriented cynosure aboard: his opening paradiddles in "Awakening" and "Hurry Up and Wait" are good fun and on the money. That last slowly develops into a very strange sort of blues, or approximately so, Wright's statement finding a crab-footed if agile logic all its own.
But that's what I like about the Wright 4Tet: everything is approximate, neither fish nor fowl, making one scratch one's head in wonder. Wright's solos are subtler and less evident here than they were on ISOMORPHISM, but an ability to self-edit never hurt; equally, "Minor You" and "Some Assembly Required" also make an appearance on the previous ISOMORPHISM disc but are so heavily reworked here I don't see that as a fault. I do, however, look a bit askance at the 29 minutes of music here. A little scant. Still good, though, for what's available.
by Ken Egbert