by Raul da Gama
In the fast-flowing torrents of contemporary music, it isn’t often that a musician – especially a guitarist – is brawny enough to stop and re-examine something that has already been successfully done by him or herself once already. Somehow, Rik Wright always seems up for a challenge. In every one of his past recordings he seems to jump at the idea of ‘zigging’ when everyone else suggests that he ‘zag’. This often means that Mr Wright is even up for doing something that does not suggest itself naturally to him. Clearly this is the intent of his performance on Subtle Energy, a record on which he recasts music from three earlier albums, this time around transcribing the music for clarinet and bass clarinet instead of the regular woodwinds of their incarnations.
Pat Metheny once tore through his musical experiments on an album that envisaged a scenario where the whole of his sound-world was turned upside down. The album in question was his 1994 Geffen production Zero Tolerance for Silence. Distortion and musical mayhem was the name of the game there. While Rik Wright’s Subtle Energy does not veer that far into the aural universe it certainly veers far left of where his compunctions lie. Here, Mr. Wright’s tempi do not broach Pat Metheny’s zany extremes, but some of the things that Rik Wright does on this 2016 album are abjectly unorthodox. Anyone expecting a mellifluous outpouring of melody will be hugely surprised by Mr. Wright’s diving headlong into an angular sonic refraction of sound between the woody timbres of the clarinet and – on “Nonchalant” – the bass clarinet and the reverberating echo of eerily announced chords on his guitar.
The dynamism of “Yearning” soars above the proverbial footlights in appropriately operatic fashion, even though the slow unwinding of the lyrical calm of the piece thins when the bass clarinet falls silent. However, Rik Wright is quick to pick up the slack and occupy more of the sonic space albeit without overcrowding it. The guitarist’s dry-point traversal of the music that follows underlines the intrinsic humor of piece in a way that might give guitar purists pause yet might also elicit a knowing wink from the composer. Rik Wright’s spacy and astute timing, and sensitive harmonic pointing enliven the rest of the piece, especially with the return of the clarinet to the proceedings. However, it’s only for a short while before the guitarist takes flight again.
There is further proof that Rik Wright can play simply and directly when he chooses to can be found on his intuitive dynamic scaling of “Patience,” where he brings out the main theme’s music-box sensibility to otherworldly effect. In the cantering rhythm of the piece that never falters despite its precariously slow tempo, Rik Wright’s overall presentation of this music proves equally provocative. He seems to order each piece not only according to time, but also to key signature. Moreover, the invention of fanciful song titles does much to also steer the music into the realm of enigmatic prose. Check out this release if you want guitar music with a twist.