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Jack Wright - Up For Grabs

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Artist: Jack Wright

Album: Up For Grabs

Label: Spring Garden

Review date: Apr. 15, 2005

In the sleeve notes to Up For Grabs, saxophonist Jack Wright writes, “…For [American] experimental [music], and particularly acoustic free improvisation, the low-budget, more fragile and quickly, individually produced CDR is the appropriate medium. The drive to CD production for us is not just wishful thinking, it is the dream that our music can somehow be included in the magic circle of the socially approved.” Wright believes that recordings of experimental music should be produced and circulated as quickly as possible, without the delays associated with waiting for a shipment from a pressing plant: “…Improvisers are experimenters, who need to share what they have done most recently, and not pass around the music of the past.”

I’ve quoted Wright at length here because he advocates a pattern of behavior not only for the experimental music community, but for its listeners as well. If experimental musicians should be making simple handmade recordings rather than “masterpieces” (Wright’s word), listeners would have to stop expecting masterpieces and instead expect documents.

Up For Grabs features Wright alone on soprano and alto saxophones; it includes some overdubs, but in general the recording is unsurprisingly stark. Fortunately, Wright’s playing – unpretentious, rough-and-ready – is very well suited to documentary-style recording. Wright uses noise in an overtly expressive manner; no matter how strange the sounds get, it’s always obvious that it’s Wright producing them with a saxophone. Few improvisers shape extended techniques with as much drama as Wright does – check out the fantastic recent From Between with Michel Doneda and Tatsuya Nakatani for more evidence of this.

Wright’s vocabulary of extended techniques will be familiar to fans of Wright’s sometime playing partners Doneda and Bhob Rainey – hisses, squeaks, and long tones are prominent here. (I do, however, hear some unfamiliar noises here, like the radio interference-like sound that’s present throughout much of “The Who It Is.”) Unlike many improvisers who use these sorts of sounds, however, Wright rarely bothers to sound pristine – if the pattern of Wright’s breathing is audible when he plays a long tone, that’s okay with him, and in fact, is often part of what makes his music so good. Wright’s recent music is unique, but it’s not usually based on grand experiments or wildly ambitious concepts. Rather than trying to create a musical world from scratch, he has found a little corner of the world that is his own. He knows that corner well, and the music he makes there is both expressive and dependent upon the tiny imperfections in his playing. Recordings that are imperfect and minor in scope therefore make sense for him.

In contrast, much other experimental music thrives on grand experiments and wildly ambitious concepts – the pursuit of the “masterpiece” surely burns holes in many musicians’ pockets, but their pain is our gain. Improv needs more, not fewer, releases like those in the Erstwhile Records catalog, which feature excellent sound quality and beautiful cover art. If releases like these are made as a result of “wishful thinking,” then I hope the delusions of grandeur live on.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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