Saxophone maverick Jack Wright provides us with four tracks of undiluted soloism. Two for soprano, one each for tenor and alto. These soliloquies are as bubbly as spring water, thoroughly intelligible, and straight to the point. Wright is the antithesis of the stereotypical improviser: his phrasing evokes by sketching rather than pompously asserting, hints at the sublime via grimacing, throws left hooks to the liver of obviousness instead of coming across as a pretentious high school essay. Above all, it leaves ample room for the breathing space of a listener, who has time to download the essential data into the ears and brain, and process it all to the fullest.
Listening to over three-quarters of an hour of solo sax without experiencing at least a few moments of distraction, or out-and-out boredom, is not a given. But Wright, with decades of anti-yawning antidotes stuffed in his soul, knows exactly where to fish out the notes, harmonics and sputtery vibrations that, in consistently effective combinations, drive those ugly ghosts from the audio landscape. His exercise of staccato and ostinato turns a fragment into a miniature declaration of independence. The amalgam of heart, lungs, and imagination that makes this material moldable by our perceptive equipment ensures that snippets of sonic novelty are felt in the skull first, and in the chest later.
In ultimate praise, subsequent to my second round with What Is What I had the urge to pick up my guitar after not doing so for quite a while, and played for several minutes in a fresh, unforced way. Wright's improvisational approach prevents the interpretive mechanisms of instinct from resorting to easy routes or, even worse, commonplaces. I don't know how much the protagonist is interested in what this reviewer is about to state, which perhaps will sound blasphemous for someone. However, this album — along with many other hidden gems containing little sparks of Wright's modest genius — should serve to add, once and for all, his name to the list of all-time greats, together with the Lacys, the (Evan) Parkers and the Colemans. The establishment's blessing is not required. It's never too late to learn that, in music, purity is everything.
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