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Zen Tornado by Rik Wright

There’s an early period of musical development for most jazz and rock players where things start to come together. They start making sense. You’re not making great (or even good) sounding music yet, but you feel you’re on the right path: you can see the connections between musical elements - you see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the period to really dig in for a few years, learn everything you can, and work as hard as possible to develop the craft and your own voice. Bands whose members are collectively and personally beginning this period can often produce some pretty confused and annoying music while "working through" ideas and sounds. For instance: the proverbial instrumental jazz/rock band at the high school talent show that everyone agrees is "interesting" and "talented", but nobody really enjoys: the ‘band geeks’ that put a group together. Rik Wright’s Zen Tornado has the right forward thinking attitude to create modern and invigorating (words from the record’s liner notes) jazz music. The problem is that in the music world, attitude doesn’t make up for lack of skill or craft (except for certain pop and rap acts), and Wright’s Tornado has a musical gulf between their vision and the music they realize. It sounds like their still playing to a gymnasium filled with fellow high school students and understanding teachers with low expectations.

The ‘annoyance factor’ would weigh in much lighter if not for the record’s title and overblown liner notes. Wright writes:

"This recording is about exploring the paradigm of modern composition.... The challenge was to play new music in a way that couldn’t be played ten or twenty years ago but also couldn’t be considered anything but jazz."

However genuine the band’s intentions, the music on Zen Tornado (Zen: not; Tornado: kinda) comes nowhere near the sentiment of these notes. In terms of composition, most of the seven tunes have short, simple themes usually lasting a whole 30 seconds or so, and go directly into adhoc ‘free’ sections for solos. There’s essentially no compositional development. Comparing the writing on this record to the ‘paradigm of modern [jazz] composition’ (D. Douglas. Zorn, Metheny, Schneider, etc.... ), is like comparing the writing of Brittany Spears tunes to Radiohead’s music.

The paradigm or ‘vibe’ that Wright’s music is closer to is that of the 70s fusion movement or jazz/rock from the same time: Mahavishnu Orchestra, Grateful Dead, King Crimson, etc.... The music falls short considering this paradigm as well. "The challenge was to play new music in a way that couldn’t be played ten or twenty years ago but also couldn’t be considered anything but jazz." - Well, it was played (better) ten or twenty (30-40) years ago, and it was considered something other than jazz. If the group’s mastery of their instruments was at the level of composition they grope for, it would make up for a lot. Such is not the case. Having a violinist in the group is not a free pass to cachet.

When an artist shoots high and just misses the mark, a true fan forgives the misfire and appreciates the attempt for the other treasures found short of the prize. But when an artist shoots for the moon and lands atop a tree across the street from the studio, there can only a few (if any) treasures to mine along the way.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Rik Wright
  • CD Title: Zen Tornado
  • Genre: Fusion
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: HipSync Records
  • Musicians: Rik Wright - Guitar; Alicia Allen - Violin; James DeJoie - Saxophone, Flute, and Clarinet; James Whiton and Walter White - Bass; Simon Grant - Drums
  • Rating: Two Stars
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