FRANK WRIGHT - The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings
[ESP Disk,]

To say Frank Wright never sold out is about the most general statement you can make about this superstar tenor player. Throughout his life, he had not once recorded for a commercial label. He never gave in to the forces of the money gods. With that said, Frank Wright's "The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings" [which comprises his two dates for ESP - "The Earth" and "Your Prayer"] are without a doubt the most significant Frank Wright albums ever committed to tape. Considering "The Earth" was a debut, it was a mighty call to arms. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it was a loud and gritty recording of some of the most daring music being made in 1965. People claim Frank Wright's style and passion on the tenor came directly out of Albert Ayler's fiery delivery. I think the two great men had every right to coexist side by side - even if there were certain similarities in the methods of their playing. Henry Grimes' powerful and resounding bass playing gave the three long tracks on Frank's debut a fat, bottomed out sound. Percussionist Tom Price kept the proceedings lively with subtle splashes of colour and shade when these were needed. Ultimately, it's Frank that was the star of this session. It was his heavy-handed blows on the tenor that made this debut what it is - an explosion of imagination, fire and ultimately joy.

Recorded two years down the road in 1967, "Your Prayer" features a different line-up but retains the same no-bullshit attitude. This time around Frank assembles a quintet with alto player Arthur Jones, trumpeter Jacques Coursil, bassist Steve Tintweiss and percussionist Muhammad Ali [not the boxer!]. Though Frank's playing has developed [some say, matured] between recordings, it's his interaction with another wind player that makes this record mandatory listening. When the two play in unison, it's almost as if they were in some sort of a marching band, but it's their daring solos that really take this session over the top. "Train Stop" is particularly effective in showcasing the strengths of the two wind players, along with the scorching trumpet playing of Jacques Coursil [whom ESP wanted to record, but were sadly forced to suspend operations in 1974]. Various bells utilized by Muhammad Ali add a refreshing colour to the session, especially at times when the blowing gets too fierce. It's as if he wanted to signify an end of one round and the start of another. As an added bonus, this 2 CD package also features never-before heard interview with Frank Wright and ESP founder Bernard Stollman. Frank discusses the hindrances in playing and the joy of his music amongst other things. So many decades after these recordings were made; you can clearly tell how his passionate blows affected many players down the road. You can certainly hear elements of Frank's sound in Peter Brotzmann and Charles Gayle. Though Frank may have passed on to the other side, his sound is still with us. In the words of Bernard Stollman, as he paraphrases Frank Wright's excitement about playing in Europe, "I'm playing all over the place. They can't get enough of me." We still can't get enough of you, Frank!

- Tom Sekowski

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